Ofcom Amateur Radio Licence Review

Welcome to the RSGB ConventionThis weekend was the annual RSGB Convention in Milton Keynes. For a summary of the event, see our RSGB Convention 2013 Report.

One of the highlights of the weekends agenda was a talk by two Ofcom representatives discussing the upcoming Amateur Radio Licence Review. As some of the changes being discussed are quite interesting, here’s a quick summary of the highlights:

The Outline

The overview into the upcoming public review was presented by Paul Jarvis and Ash Gohil from Ofcom. This was a pre-briefing ahead of a wider public consultation, so nothing set in stone – it was just an outline of what’s being considered. The consultation is expected to start in early 2014. Nonetheless, the audience response showed that there are some quite contentious issues, and it’s important for all amateurs to have their say once the consultation gets started.

Ofcom's Ash Gohil and Paul Jarvis G8RMM
Ofcom’s Ash Gohil and Paul Jarvis G8RMM (Pic: Trevor M5AKA)

Here’s a summary of the issues likely to be in the consultation:

Tidying the database

There are over 81,000 UK amateur licences allocated, but there are significantly less amateurs – A one-licence-per-amateur structure would simplify this.

Under discussion could be the revocation of a callsign once you have progressed to a higher level, or the us of a single licence / callsign that’s updated as you progress – possibly with an identifier at the end of a callsign to show Foundation, Intermediate or Full. Should any changes only apply to new licensees, or should existing amateurs also be affected by any proposed changes?

One Callsign Per Ham  - Ofcom Consultation Slides
One Callsign Per Ham – Ofcom Consultation Slides

Progression

How can we encourage people to progress from Foundation? It seems that it was always intended that Foundation would be the first step in an amateur’s journey, but many have stuck with M3 or M6 without progressing to Intermediate. Although not directly stated, it seems that it’s viewed that the higher the progression level, the better the amateur, and a way needs to be found to encourage amateurs to climb. Clearly that’s not going to work for everyone, but some thought is being given to either the stick or the carrot approach to the licence levels. One proposal was that the Foundation licence time out, which is clearly going to be controversial.

UPDATE: (Sept 2014): No changes re. Foundation licence progression were proposed in the final Ofcom consultation – There are no proposals to force amateurs to progress from Foundation.

Secondary Identifiers

One of the more lively discussion topics. The current understanding by most amateurs is that an English operator traveling to a Scottish location would mean a change of callsign – from M0PSX to MM0PSX – However it seems that’s no how Ofcom’s legal people see it – and it’s the main station operating address that determines the secondary locator. The cry from the audience was clear – the prefix determines where you’re operating from. Up for discussion in the consultation then, is whether the licence wording needs to change to reflect established operating practices, or whether amateurs need to fall in line with Ofcom’s interpretation of the current licence!

Ofcom Consultation Slides
Secondary Identifiers – Ofcom Consultation Slides

Club and Special Event Licences

Another interesting one. A club licence is in effect a personal licence for use with a club. Should that person leave the club, then the licence is still theirs, and not the club’s. A written letter of surrender seems to be required, so that a new officer of the club can take over the club’s callsign. Another option for consideration would be find a way to make the club, or a position within the club be the entity that owns the licence, but remember that a Full licence holder needs to hold a club licence.

Similarly, a special event licence is a variation on a person’s Full licence, meaning that that person needs to be present and supervising throughout the special event. Should this be opened to being a club special event licence, and if so, what is the impact? Again – interesting points for discussion.

Club Licences - Ofcom Consultation Slides
Club Licences – Ofcom Consultation Slides

Other changes

A number of other issues were discussed, such as:

  • Tidying up the definition for Maritime Mobile, to end confusion
  • Airborne use (for controlling high altitude balloons)
  • How to expire Repeater NoVs, where the repeater is not operating, tying up the allocation that could be used by others
  • Rules around operating whilst waiting for a licence to be issued.

Additionally, it was noted that there’s currently no provision to re-validate a club licence every 5 years online.

Next steps

Nothing firm has been decided, and nothing can be changed without the public consultation, but it’s going to be helpful for all amateurs to start thinking about these issues now, and having our voices heard when the consultation starts early next year.

If you care about all or any of these issues, here’s what to do:

  • Sign up to get updates on this from Ofcom: Amateur Radio Consultations
    Discuss the proposals in the RSGB’s online forum: RSGB Litmus Test

You’re also welcome to have your say here – in the comments section below…

UPDATE: The proposed changes to the licence were published in September 2014, with a public consultation running to the end of October 2014. See: Proposed Licence Changes (Sept 2104)

(PS: Sorry about the lack of decent photos – I was not at a great angle for pics. If you took a better shot, please forward it!)

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