You may have noticed announcements about the Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC) making substantial grants to various amateur radio and communications technology projects. Where did this outfit come from and how do they have funds to donate?
This is my story about it, but I don’t speak for the ARDC. I am a member of the Grants Advisory Committee, which reviews the grant proposals.
My story starts with a discussion that happened a long time ago (1980s?) with Bdale/KBØG. We were talking about packet radio, networking, and other technical topics and he mentioned that a group of hams had requested and obtained a block of IP addresses. The ARDC website credits Hank/KA6M, for taking the lead on this. This block turned out to be 44.x.x.x, which was set aside for amateur radio use. At the time, I thought it was a nice thing to have but really didn’t pay much attention to it. This 44Net or AMPRNet was managed informally until 2011 when ARDC was formed as a non-profit, public benefit corporation under IRS rules 501(c)(3).
Well, it turns out that in today’s world of everything-on-the-network, IP addresses have a significant monetary value. The ARDC Board of Directors recognized that the amateur community would not use all of the IP addresses assigned to it and that those IP addresses could be sold for significant dollars. Also, the value was time perishable because the internet would eventually transition to IPv6. So in 2019, ARDC decided to sell a portion of those IP addresses with the goal of using the proceeds to benefit the amateur radio community and digital communications, in general. More specifics to the story are available here.
The amount of money raised from this sale was not disclosed. However, the ARDC 2019 Financial Statement shows assets of approximately $109M. Yes, that is an M, as in millions of dollars. This is an unprecedented amount of money available to the amateur radio community. The basic idea is to spin out a portion of these assets as grants (say 5% annually), while maintaining and growing the principle.
Grants Advisory Committee
In 2020, Bdale pointed out to me that ARDC was taking applications for the Grants Advisory Committee (GAC). This committee reviews the grant proposals as they come into the ARDC and makes a recommendation to the Board on whether to approve them. (The final decision is with the Board of Directors.) In my semi-retired state, I was looking for ways to assist charitable organizations, so doing this role for ARDC sounded great! How can you not like helping out with a well-funded organization focused on amateur radio and communications?
At this point, I am about 10 months into the effort and I’m really enjoying it. I think everyone in ARDC sees 2021 as a building year…not everything is running like a precision machine just yet. Some paid staff have been hired which has been a huge step forward. This program is large enough that it is difficult to operate with just part-time volunteer efforts. More importantly, we have people like Rosy/KJ7RYV and Chelsea/KF0FVJ that have deep experience with non-profit charitable work. My friend (and well-known ham) Dan/KB6NU has signed on as the Content Manager.
The details of the grants program are spelled out on the ARDC website, so I won’t cover that here. I will say that if your radio club or other organization has a project they would like to pursue but is struggling to fund it, consider asking for a grant from ARDC. What kinds of things has ARDC funded? College scholarships in partnership with the ARRL Foundation, development work on the M17 protocol (open-source digital voice), ham stations at several universities, repeater installations and upgrades, radio club communications trailers, and much more. The list of 2021 grants that have been funded is on the website.
As you can probably tell, I am excited to be a part of this worthy effort and helping to make it happen.
73 Bob K0NR