As a veteran educator and research center director at three large universities, I've had the thrill of seeing more than 10 generations of students obtain electrical and computer engineering degrees and pursue technical careers around the world. Common traits that I've seen repeated in the successful matriculation of thousands of students include an appreciation for the engineering process, built on integrity, the open exchange of ideas, and accuracy in solving problems. These values echo the engineer's creed, which calls all engineers to:
- To give the utmost of performance;
- To participate in none but honest enterprise;
- To live and work according to the laws of man and the highest standards of professional conduct;
- To place service before profit, the honor and standing of the profession before personal advantage, and the public welfare above all other considerations.
Many of the students I've had the pleasure of working with became interested in the hobby of amateur radio, also called "ham radio," the same hobby that led me to pursue a career in electrical engineering. I have always believed that the ham radio hobby has been a vital part of the cultivation of engineering talent around the world. Past great hams, who were licensed as teenagers, include Frederick Terman, the Stanford Dean who founded Silicon Valley, Arthur Collins, the man who created Collins radio (later Rockwell Collins), and Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh.
The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) recently reported the number of American ham radio operators has seen anemic 1% annual growth over the past decade or more, with fewer numbers of young hams entering the hobby. Concurrent with this poor attraction of youth, ARRL has placed a large emphasis on emergency communications (EmComm), and has tacitly approved, and at times outright endorsed, the wide spread use of effectively encrypted data on the HF bands that travel around the world via the ionosphere.
The FCC has always been clear throughout its Part 97 rules that all ham radio transmitted signals must not be obscured and "out in the open", so other hams and the public may listen in. Especially in emergencies, the FCC has been clear that others need to hear what is happening so they can alert authorities. The social contract of ham radio, in exchange for the valuable use of public spectrum, is that all may participate and learn, with the understanding that business use, privacy, and bypass of other commercial means are prohibited.
To rectify this ongoing problem of effective encryption in amateur radio, and to open up the airwaves so that computer enthusiasts may intercept and experiment and learn from all transmissions, the FCC recently published a rule making proposal RM-11831, that would reiterate the need to keep all data communications open for all to intercept, while keeping email relay stations in their own allocated many sub-bands.
Many who are improperly using HF radio for free private email are spreading false information about the proposal and its impacts. The proposal would not end emailing in amateur radio, it would just open up the messages so all can hear and intercept. The rancor and misinformation about RM-11831 is a clear indication of the degradation of the hobby, and the urgency for amateur radio to return to its engineering roots and open transmissions, both which are a vital prerequisite to attract young hams that can participate in the hobby, and grow up with values that mirror the Engineer's Creed.
To preserve the basic tenets of amateur radio, I see an urgent need for the engineering community to write to the FCC in droves, and to file comments in favor of RM-11831, and to support the concept of all ham radio data being open for reception by the public and would- be hobbyists. The FCC is taking comments until April 25. Thus far, the vocal minority has been virtually unopposed in trying to turn the amateur radio hobby into a secure email system for boaters and RVers, rather than a hobby that is open, transparent, and steeped in the values that lead youth to pursue careers in engineering. The proposal would not end emailing OR EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS in amateur radio, it would just make it open to intercept AS REQUIRED BY FCC AND THE PUBLIC GOOD. Engineers need to pay it forward, and support open source and available decoding for transparency in ham radio. Write to the FCC and congress today to keep the airwaves open for all.