Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Simple Ham Radio Antennas: Time to head for the radio basement? Post #270

Those of you who follow my Amateur Radio News Blog (http://kh6jrm.com) on a regular basis may be aware of two related radio stories that will have a significant impact on the future of amateur radio and the rf spectrum that we share with other services.

The first article relates to comments made by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler at the annual NAB convention today in Las Vegas, Nevada. In his speech before NAB delegates, Wheeler urged television broadcasters to abandon over-the-air transmissions in favor of streaming over the internet.  Wheeler says the migration to broadband internet would free up spectrum for the ever increasing demands of consumer electronics, from cell phones and iPads to mobile radio and other public services.  Already, VHF analog channels between channels 2 and 13 have moved to higher frequencies and now employ digital signals.  The now vacant channels won't remain idle for long, since these VHF allocations will be assigned to other services. The gradual appropriation of frequencies above 450 MHz for other users is continuing as consumer demand for broadband services grows.  Amateur Radio is just one of the services that could be impacted if the FCC decides to reassign frequencies shared by hams with other services such as the U.S. military.

The second article concerns the loss of amateur radio assignments in the 2.3 GHz and 3.4 MHz bands, which Ofcam (the UK equivalent of our FCC) has reassigned to what is called "new civil uses" in the UK.  Amater radio is a secondary user along with the military on these bands.  On 07 April 2014, the UK Ministry of Defense released 40 MHz of spectrum at 2.3 GHz and 150 MHz of spectrum at 3.4 GHz for other services, including broadband coverage for cell phone, internet use, and public service agencies.  Some of these new allocations will affect amateur radio frequencies between 2350-2390 MHz and 3410-3475 MHz.  The tiny slivers left of this spectrum will be assigned for amateur radio use by special permit only.

The object of these two seemingly unrelated articles is clear:  Amateur Radio is being excluded from bands above 70 cm (450 MHz) to make room for the anticipated expansion of Wi-Fi and other broadband carriers.  The amateur radio bands are being compromised  under the names of consumer demand and expediency.

This is a battle Amateur Radio will lose.  Why?  Simple:  money talks.  These UHF and SHF bands are worth millions to commercial interests.  The taxes alone will generate much needed revenues for cash-strapped governments.

This scenario reminds me of the spectrum battles fought by the ARRL and other amateur radio societies after World War I when the U.S. Navy and various corporations vied for control of the airwaves.  Thanks to the work of the ARRL and ham volunteers, the tide was turned.  A good account of this battle is contained in Clinton De Soto's book "200 Meters and Down."  It appears history is repeating itself.

Perhaps, amateur radio enthusiasts will be given the "radio basement" (VLF and MW) where radio once began.

Perhaps, the FCC is encouraging  amateur experiments and licensing below 500 kHz to prepare hams for the day when they will lose much of their current primary and shared rf spectrum to what ARRL cofounder HIram Percy Maxim called "The Commercial Interests."

Who knows? With the loss of international HF shortwave broadcasting, the loss of public support for MW AM broadcasting, and the new amateur radio allocations between 472 and 479 kHz, ham operators may find a "gold mine" in those soon-to-be abandoned MW and HF frequencies in the years ahead.

So, it may be a good idea to keep that HF rig and that simple 2 meter/70 cm HT around the shack.  These may be the only rigs operable on the realignment of frequencies that surely lies ahead.

In my less than humble opinion, all the efforts by UK amateurs to maintain their shared frequencies at 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz may have been in vain.  There's obviously profit to be made in withdrawing amateur radio frequencies and giving them to various public users.  As good as the ARRL and RSGB legal teams are, they will not be able to withstand the offensive from the broadband and internet industry.  Couple this trend with the growing opposition to antennas from HOAs and CC&Rs and you have a real mess on your hands, especially where emergencies occur.  When an emergency happens, you can count on our sophisticated cell phones, tablets, and iPads to give out when commercial power dies.  It may be trite, but the phrase "When all else fails, there is Amateur Radio" still rings true.

So, what do we as amateur radio operators do?  Keep operating on the frequencies and bands we do use. The old saying, "use it or lose it" comes to mind.  Be sure your local amateur radio club has a good relationship with civil defense and first responders in your community.  Have memoranda of understandings in place and be sure hams are included in emergency preparation plans.  Get trained in CPR, First Aid, and Emergency Response procedures so you will be viewed as a valuable human resource.  Become part of an ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) group and get the necessary FEMA certifications.  Stay in contact with local, state, and national political leaders and keep them appraised of the community service you and your amateur radio club give to your community.  Work with local county and city councils to moderate antenna restrictions in your area.  And finally be prepared for emergencies.  Have a "go kit" in your home and vehicle.  Stay positive and proactive about amateur radio.  Do interviews with local media to spread awareness of amateur radio and the service it renders to our neighborhoods.  When I worked at a commercial broadcast station, I encouraged amateur radio clubs to come into my news studio for interviews and public service programs.  Finally, let all of us work together to preserve the operating privileges we do enjoy.  That means we must support the ARRL, RSGB, RAC, and the other amateur societies around the world in their efforts to protect our small slice of the rf spectrum.

The FCC and Ofcom have made it very clear:  Unless you can demonstrate a reason for using the rf spectrum, your portion of the radio pie will be auctioned off to the highest bidder.  All of that broadband space must come from a limited rf spectrum.  And three guesses where that easily available space will be found.  You guessed it--from the spectrum now used by the military and its shared users, including amateur radio.  We are seen as "easy pickings" by some.  Don't become a spectrum "victim".  If we don't get our act together, we're headed for the VLF and MW radio "basement."  It may be time to restore that old tube or hybrid HF rig, build a 472-479 kHz rig, and learn how to wind large induction coils for that VLF antenna.  We've been warned...it's time to act.

You can find the FCC and Ofcom articles by visiting my Amateur Radio News Blog at http://kh6jrm.com.

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Aloha es 73 de Russ (KH6JRM)

BK29jx15--along the beautiful Hamakua Coast of Hawaii Island.
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