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.