Spring 2007 Issue


The Sociology of Regulations

By John Champa, K8OCL

When the ARRL Board of Directors, at the recommendation of its Chief Technical Officer, Paul Rinaldo, W4RI, established the High Speed Multimedia (HSMM) Working Group (WG) we were given a very broad mission statement. Since then some critics have rightfully commented that the assigned mission was too broad to be accomplished in any reasonable time frame given the limited resources available.

That is an after-thought, or “Monday morning quarterbacking.” At the time, it all sounded challenging, but within reason. However, we were ignorant.

We proceeded to gather together the WG, drawing on the best volunteers we could find in the Amateur Radio Service. To accomplish the goal of designing a nationwide HSMM network, which we later dubbed “The Hinternet,” we quickly realized that a change of regulations would be needed.

The current Amateur Spread Spectrum regulations, although drafted by hams with good intentions years ago, were totally unsuitable. For example, the Automatic Power Requirement (APR) was tough to achieve and had little meaning given the hidden node issue with IEEE 802.11 modulation.

Furthermore, why have the 100-watt power limit? We had enough trouble and expense just generating 1 watt on the 2.4-GHz shared band. Finally, our later work on lower frequencies depended on orthogonal freuency-division multiplexing (OFDM) modulation and wasn’t really spread spectrum anyway, especially when some of the bandwidths got down to 100 kHz! It wasn’t gaining any advantage by “spreading.”

The toughest issue by far was dealing with the need for encryption for the purpose of network, not to obscure the meaning of the communications. Clearly, the current regulations were never intended for a post-9/11 high-speed data emergency communications environment. Chris Imlay, W3KD, was most helpful in working between the FCC and us on such complex issues.

When I read the comments of Bonnie Crystal, KQ6XA, regarding regulations and the digital-radio reflector, it brought everything into perspective, and I simply have to share her excellent observations with you. They are so classic that I like to call her comments “The Sociology of Regulations,” but you judge for yourself:

Like laws, ham radio regulatory rules are not black and white. They are subject to interpretation, tradition, politics, and convincing arguments.

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