The Defense of 440

Lately there’s been more saber-rattling and calls to arms over HR 607 here in the US.  This is the bill that places several UHF bands on the auction block for commercial wireless service and public safety.  The item of concern to amateur radio is the listing of the 440 band which amateur radio has a secondary allocation.

There are some “inconvenient truths” about 440 and its potential reallocation:

1.  Amateur radio usage of the 440 band is abysmal.  (Dead repeaters don’t count as usage.)

2.  What usage there is of 440 is inefficient when compared with 3G and 4G technologies that could use the band.

3.  Millions could benefit for 440 rather than a few thousand who use it today.

4.  Amateur radio’s 440 band is a secondary allocation, not primary.

BPL was a major threat to amateur radio and I adamantly opposed it.  Millions could have benefited from BPL as well so opposition of BPL may seem hypocritical, but there is key difference.  BPL didn’t actually use the spectrum, it polluted it.  If BPL would have made actual use of the spectrum for transmission of data, we may have seen a de facto reallocation of amateur radio HF spectrum.  But ultimately physics and market forces killed BPL.

When it comes to the reallocation of 440, I’m neutral about it and almost leaning towards letting the chips fall where they may.  However, I feel like I’m selling out amateur radio.  It’s been ingrained in our minds that we have to reflexively defend amateur radio against any and all threats.

The comments I see from amateurs regarding HR 607 seem to reflect a lack of understanding of the real world today, technology, and amateur radio’s place in the world.  Perhaps I’m reading and hearing the wrong comments, undoubtedly from venues that cater to those who speak before thinking.  But I digress.

Amateur radio has little to no political pull today.  Any semblance of political power is merely momentary photo opportunity politics.  We lack the numbers to give politicians appreciable benefits from sticking their necks out for us.  The post 9/11 homeland security “importance bump” we received is winding down and arguably so will the war on terrorism.  The next war is going to be a war of limited resources and debt, areas where amateur radio is politically irrelevant and potentially a roadblock.

We can’t expect to hold on to valuable spectrum forever with 1960s technology when faced with 21st century technology that can make use of a limited resource that would result in a benefit several orders of magnitude greater than what amateur radio is doing today.  In recent years in American society it’s become common for vocal citizens to complain about entitlements, programs, and hand outs under the guise of reigning in the national debt, thinly veiled in patriotism, protecting the American Way and all that is good.  But when it comes to cutting entitlements, programs, and hand outs from which they receive benefits, the conversation abruptly ends and out come the protest signs and 16th century costumes.  It’s much the same with amateur radio bands.  Our wise and aging licensees are deathly afraid of the coming debtpocalypse, but “you can pry my barely used UHF spectrum from my cold, dead fingers.”  I see retorts to HR 607 like “why do they need more spectrum; public safety/cellular has X MHz” or “why don’t they reallocate FRS/TV/WIFI/Cellular!?!”  I just have to do a face-palm.  It’s painful to read.

Ultimately I doubt 440 will be reallocated as a result of HR 607.  Amateur radio is a secondary allocation, the primary being the military.  All the boilerplate letter mailing campaigns and phone calls to poor overworked congressional staffers won’t have an effect.  If the military throws in the towel on the 440 band, the amateur radio 440 allocation is going down for the count, regardless.  Much like the situation with BPL, it’s mostly out of our control.

Rather than just totally blocking the reallocation of this band, “we’re the radio guys who will save the world, end-of-story”, we need come up with some reasonable compromise options that gives something to the public and justifies what spectrum we hold on to for decades to come.  Perhaps this means offering up 10 or 20 Mhz and keeping the remain part for satellites and data modes.  As I mentioned in a previous article, we need to develop a digital protocol and network to utilize this spectrum at a respectable level with applications beyond ragchewing and exchanging grid squares.  We certainly can’t forever defend holding on to this band with analog repeaters and point-to-point links linking vegetating two meter repeaters.

8 Responses to “The Defense of 440”

  • Joe N0LSD:

    I’ve not been a licensed Amateur all that long, so perhaps I am coming at the discussion of HR607 without the baggage of previous experiences.

    In the US, as in many countries, RF Spectrum is seen as a public resource; and, as such, is regulated by the Government. In many countries, the Government gets “first dibs” on their choice of frequencies, and most–if not all–of the remaining spectrum is sold to the highest bidder. The Government, acting in the “public interest” still regulates the commercial spectrum.
    Bottom line: RF Spectrum–nominally a public resource–is largely unavailable for the public to use. Between Governmental Use and Commercial interests, scant little spectrum is actually available for the average citizen.

    The exceptions? Citizens Band and Amateur Radio. Setting aside the largely unregulated CB slice for a moment, the Amateur Radio set-aside is really the only place where average citizens with relatively little technical expertise and comparatively inexpensive equipment can utilize a small segment of the RF Spectrum to do with, largely, whatever they want. There are rules, norms, social networking possibilities, peer groups, experimentation, educational and public service opportunities. It is limited, largely self-regulated, and completely free of commercial and pecuniary interests.
    Taking a longer view than what can most efficiently by utilized or what can garner the most profit for Governments and Corporations for just a moment, we are left with a most curious and paradoxical situation: the entirety of the RF spectrum is a public resource; yet, surprisingly, the public is actually afforded very little access to that resource. The sole real exception is the Amateur Radio segment, and some would whittle what little is afforded the Amateurs away. We already share some of this resource with both Commercial and Governmental organizations.
    So, tell me again why we need to further erode what is, in effect, the only area of the RF Spectrum that is available to the average citizen?

  • I don’t disagree with you, Joe. In the BPL debate I often used the “national park” analogy when it came to amateur radio and RF spectrum. Unfortunately today we have those who would just as soon auction off the national parks. The public resource argument is a noble and valid one, however I think it’s no longer as effective and we need a stronger technological and usage argument.

  • Lee, KC4ART:

    The only people that want this bill to pass is Motorola. This bill will require ALL services to vacate the 400mhz spectrum. This will cost public safety agencies, local governments, and businesses millions if not billions of dollars to completely replace their entire radio systems. Motorola stands to make A LOT of money if this passes.

  • Jeff Moore KE7ACY:

    Compromise is NEVER an option!

  • N7CPC:

    Who’s side are you on. Could not finish the article. You must work for ATT or verizon.

  • N7CPC: If you would have finished reading the article, you would have seen that I’m recommending another strategy for a defense of this band. If I was on the side of commercial interests, I would merely cheer on what we’re doing right now which will ultimately cause us to lose this band, perhaps not in this round but certainly in a future one. Next time you should read the entire article before commenting.

    KE7ACY: “No compromise” was a valid strategy with BPL. BPL was setting a dangerous precedent, having a Part 15 network receive the benefits of a licensed service while polluting spectrum. It made sense to not compromise, just based on principle. With 440, no compromise coupled with abysmal usage of the spectrum and no plan to ever catch up with 21st century technologies is a losing proposition.

    KC4ART: That’s assuming displaced services migrate to new Motorola two way radio systems. I don’t think Motorola offers 4G wireless networks which is ultimately where many classic two way radio based services could end up in the future landscape. Motorola risks having their lunch eaten by wireless carriers on the network side of the house. We already saw Nextel two way PTT eat the bottom end of the two way market years ago.

  • Joe VK6AAO:

    Once its gone its gone for every .

  • KJ4ZIZ:

    To see what all the fuss is about I built a 6 element 440 beam. Made 4 contacts in a week. Not much activity. If we just save a space for satellite work and let the military have the rest I don’t see a problem.

    Still I don;t see why the Amateur can’t keep the small portion we have allocated as it is…

    Progress I guess…

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