8_25_2020 - the FCC
So, the FCC just announced some new legislation- because of their written duty to collect money from radio services, applying for a new amateur radio license in the United States will cost 50 dollars... and an additional 50 dollars for every major update and renewal after that. This is a really big issue for a lot of us. Here are my thoughts:
I'm not sure how I feel about a 50 dollar fee being implemented for license applications. For license modifications and renewals? That's easier to stomach- but as far as a prospective amateur looking into a technician license, I think a change like this one has the potential to be catastrophic.
I'm coming from the perspective of someone under 18 actively working to get other young people into the hobby. Amateur radio is a hobby/service that perfectly parallels some of the largest and quickest-growing communities out there, namely making, computer science, free software, hacking, etc, that are being utilized in schools and in people's social lives to provide people with unique opportunities for personal and academic growth, but also contributes directly to the creation of the next generation's engineers. Given the prevalence of wireless technology in our lives (and how much fun amateur radio is) I think it would be a grave mistake to further raise the barrier to entry for this demographic.
Here's the thing: a 50 dollar application fee is going to ward away a huge portion of prospective young amateurs. A lot of people have shared the point of view that if someone isn't able to afford this fee, they won't be able to contribute to the wider hobby or afford much else, but in my opinion this is just patently false. 50 dollars is a HT, or two baofengs. That's 50 dollars that offers you a huge amount of potential for experimentation, discovery, and fun in this hobby. If you add an extra 50 dollars to that, you're at 100- that's money a lot of people don't have.
When I go to kids in my life that are interested in the sciences, they love the idea of amateur radio, but naturally, one of their first questions is the cost. Today, I can tell them that getting their license costs between zero or 15 dollars and then they can buy a cheap handheld radio to get their feet wet with a ton of stuff, which is hugely appealing. If this change goes into effect, I have to tell them, "well, it costs 50 bucks for the license, then between zero and 15 for the test, and then between 25 and 100 for a handheld radio." All of a sudden, people aren't interested anymore, even if they might have that much money to spend. I go to a public school. There are so many brilliant people here that would make excellent amateurs- I'm not talking a handful, I'm talking dozens, at least. A lot of those kids don't have a ton of money to spend, but a lot of them can afford amateur radio as it is right now. A change like this one is all it would take to instantly turn them off, and that's scary to me.
To be clear, I completely understand the need to maintain this service the FCC provides us, but I also question what the real benefits of this will be. 50 dollars is a lot of money. Maybe there's a different way to fund the licensing procedure?
So, obviously my point of view comes from the perspective of someone who's always been involved in youth involvement in the technologies and sciences, but I really do think this has the potential to create some pretty terrible side-effects if it passes.
My club encouraging youth participation in the hobby is writing a statement for when comments open, and will be working on making it easier for young people to share their own voices. I really hope this works out.