New Licences

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On October 1st we began a new era in amateur radio in the UK with the introduction of a "simplified" licencing system. There will be three levels of licence:

The key idea is that there should be a gradual progression of licencing allowing easy entry to the hobby and incentives to progress from one stage to the next.

I am greatly in favour of incentive licencing. I got interested in amateur radio at the age of 11 (back in 1970). At that stage I could not get a licence (I was too young) and the hurdle to jump was just too high. There was a three hour essay style exam and a Morse test at 12wpm. Six years later, I was able to get my licence. It was not easy and I saw a great many fall by the wayside in the process. I would have loved an easier way into the hobby. But easier entry comes with its own set of problems. Relatively little staying power is needed to get on the air, hence we should not be surprised if people drift into the hobby and drift out again. This tendency is already common under the current licencing regime and will probably increase. I predict that numbers of licenced amateurs will rise but that the number of people who actively pursue the hobby will remain fairly static. This will therefore be a publicity win for the regulators who will no doubt be slapping themselves on the back for saving amateur radio but may do little for the grass-roots of the hobby. Over and above that I do tend to think that less technically adept licencees tend to make the hobby much closer to CB than is healthy. The numbers game is surely not the only thing that we should be considering.

The incentives for progression seem ill conceived in my opinion. Access to more bands would seem to be the logical way of doing things. Differentiation on power is fraught with problems and is effectively unenforceable - reducing incentives for many. Differentiation by access to bands is easy to enforce. The other problem for the incentive method is that the current Class A licence holders have nowhere to go. The requirements to reach where we are now have been reduced and no further levels of incentive remain. The suggestion, propagated by the RSGB and others a couple of years ago when the A/B licence was introduced, that Class A licencees might be able to progress to higher power levels has mysteriously disappeared...

Many will be surprised that the Morse requirement remains for HF access. It is perhaps worth saying that the UK administration cannot unilaterally drop this as it remains an international obligation. On the international front, I do wonder if the current reciprocal arrangements that Class A (12wpm) licencees enjoy will be reduced when other administrations find that they can no longer be sure who can send and receive Morse at 12wpm in any easy fashion (it remains a requirement for HF access in many other countries). Under the new Foundation Class the Morse requirement is vestigial. Personally, I would like to see Morse replaced with some other additional demonstration of competence. Years ago, part of the requirement for Russians to get their licences was to collect certain numbers of QSL cards from different countries on the HF bands, that always seemed a good method to me and perhaps would have had some utility here in the UK.

Well, it's probably too late for this debate now. We have the new regime in place, let us all hope that it proves successful (whatever that might mean!).


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