That's the question that rears its head many times and seems to divide the ranks of POTAteers (at least on Faceboook, anyway.)
Some, who have competitive genes running through their bodies, are into it because they love the short exchanges, the ability to accumulate high numbers of QSOs in a very short amount of time, and love the awards and the leaderboards and rankings and statistics like to think of POTA as one huge contest.
Others, who like POTA for getting the chance to operate outdoors, enjoy the scenery, sunshine and fresh air feel that POTA is an operating event. Indeed, for some of our fellow Hams living under strict HOA regulations, POTA is a lifesaver, and provides them the opportunity to enjoy the hobby on a continual basis away from their homes.
There's even another group who seem to love POTA for the opportunity to fine tune and enhance their skills and gear for operating "off the grid" should that ever become necessary. Maybe we should call this group the "preppers" or "survivalists" or "minimalists".
In my most humble opinion, I regard POTA as an operating event. I'm more of the mindset of the second group that I've described - perhaps with a little bit of the third group mixed in. I love operating outdoors, getting in some fresh air and sunshine. If I make 10 contacts at a park or 500, I'm just as happy with either outcome. The fact that I've successfully set up a portable station, got it working and that I have communicated is far more rewarding and gives me more satisfaction than any plaque, certificate, or statistical outcome could provide.
So why does any of this matter at all? Why am I even writing about this? I know to some it seems a waste of time and maybe even ridiculous and unnecessary.
Two reasons that I can think of, the first being that newcomers to Amateur Radio are often confused as to what the purpose behind POTA is - is it indeed just an operating activity or some huge contest? How do we adequately explain it to them? How do we explain it to people that we are trying to attract to the hobby? POTA and all its activity is a huge selling point to potential licensees. Seeing someone operate in an outdoor location and not cooped up in the concept of a "traditional shack" is very appealing and intriguing to a lot of people. This is especially so for those who regard Amateur Radio as something antiquated and stodgy.
Secondly, it matters because there are rules and "gentlemen's agreements". If POTA is indeed a contest - then it needs to be defined as such and POTA activity should never show up on the WARC bands. Like it or not, regard it as silly or not, that's the current rule / conventional agreement we live under. If it's an operating event, much like DXCC is, then POTA activity can operate freely and unfettered on any band that is available to us. If it is a contest, then we'd better confine the activity to 80, 40, 20, 15 and 10 Meters.
When one thinks about it, there are many similarities between POTA and DXCC and even the DXCC Challenge - awards, certificates, plaques, leaderboards and "Honor Rolls". POTA activations in and of themselves are quite like mini-domestic DXpeditions with pileups and more often than not, a huge sum of QSOs worked in a very short amount of time. The similarities between these activities are what form my opinion. I do not believe the DXCC Program has ever been regarded as a contest, and so therefore I do not regard POTA as one, either.
In the end, I guess it comes down to whatever floats your boat. However, as one who has a high regard for rules and organization, I'll continue to think of POTA as an operating event. Should 30 or 17 or 12 Meters be open, I can work those bands as well with a clear conscience, knowing I have not violated any rules or agreements.
72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very lest!