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ARRL to Propose New Entry-Level License, Code-Free HF Access
NEWINGTON, CT, Jan 19, 2004--The ARRL will ask the FCC to create a new entry-level Amateur Radio license that would include HF phone privileges without requiring a Morse code test. The League also will propose consolidating all current licensees into three classes, retaining the Element 1 Morse requirement--now 5 WPM--only for the highest class. The ARRL Board of Directors overwhelmingly approved the plan January 16 during its Annual Meeting in Windsor, Connecticut. The proposals--developed by the ARRL Executive Committee following a Board instruction last July--are in response to changes made in Article 25 of the international Radio Regulations at World Radiocommunication Conference 2003 (WRC-03). They would continue a process of streamlining the amateur licensing structure that the FCC began more than five years ago but left unfinished in the Amateur Service license restructuring Report and Order (WT 98-143) that went into effect April 15, 2000.

"Change in the Amateur Radio Service in the US, especially license requirements and even more so when Morse is involved, has always been emotional," said ARRL First Vice President Joel Harrison, W5ZN, in presenting the Executive Committee's recommendations. "In fact, without a doubt, Morse is Amateur Radio's 'religious debate.'" The plan adopted by the Board departs only slightly from the Executive Committee's recommendations.

The "New" Novice

The entry-level license class--being called "Novice" for now--would require a 25-question written exam. It would offer limited HF CW/data and phone/image privileges on 80, 40, 15 and 10 meters as well as VHF and UHF privileges on 6 and 2 meters and on 222-225 and 430-450 MHz. Power output would be restricted to 100 W on 80, 40, and 15 meters and to 50 W on 10 meters and up, thus avoiding the need for the more complex RF safety questions in the Novice question pool.

"The Board sought to achieve balance in giving new Novice licensees the opportunity to sample a wider range of Amateur Radio activity than is available to current Technicians while retaining a motivation to upgrade," said ARRL CEO David Sumner, K1ZZ. "It was also seen as important to limit the scope of privileges so the exam would not have to include material that is inappropriate at the entry level."

As an introduction to Amateur Radio, the Novice license served successfully for most of its 50-year history. The FCC has not issued new Novice licenses since the 2000 license restructuring, however. Under the ARRL plan, current Novice licensees--now the smallest and least active group of radio amateurs--would be grandfathered to the new entry-level class without further testing.

Anticipating assertions that the new plan would "dumb down" Amateur Radio licensing, Harrison said those currently holding a ticket often perceive the level of complexity to have been greater when they were first licensed than it actually was. "Quite frankly," he said, "if you review the questions presented in our license manuals throughout the years, you will be surprised how they compare to those of today."

Technicians and Generals

The middle group of licensees--Technician, Tech Plus (Technician with Element 1 credit) and General--would be consolidated into a new General license that no longer would require a Morse examination. Current Technician and Tech Plus license holders automatically would gain current General class privileges without additional testing. The current Element 3 General examination would remain in place for new applicants. ARRL already has proposed additional phone privileges for Generals in its "Novice refarming" petition, RM-10413, but the FCC has not yet acted on that petition.

Morse Code Testing Retained for Extra

At the top rung, the Board indicated that it saw no compelling reason to change the Amateur Extra class license requirements. The ARRL plan calls on the FCC to combine the current Advanced and Amateur Extra class licensees into Amateur Extra, because the technical level of the exams passed by these licensees is very similar. New applicants for Extra would have to pass a 5 WPM Morse code examination, but the written exam would stay the same. The League's plan calls for current Novice, Tech Plus and General class licensees to receive lifetime Element 1 (5 WPM Morse) credit.

"This structure provides a true entry-level license with HF privileges to promote growth in the Amateur Service," Harrison said. "It also simplifies the FCC database by conforming to the current Universal Licensing System (ULS) structure and does not mandate any modifications to it."

Sumner concurred. "The Board started out by recognizing that three license classes was the right number when looking down the road 10 or 15 years," he said. "We need a new entry-level license."

"On the other hand, there's nothing particularly wrong with the existing Extra class license," he continued. "The change in the international regulations notwithstanding, the Board felt that the highest level of accomplishment in the FCC's amateur licensing structure should include basic Morse capability."

Sumner and Harrison say the current Technician entry-level ticket provides little opportunity to experience facets of ham radio beyond repeater operation. "The quality of that experience," Sumner said, "often depends on the operator's location."

Among other advantages, Sumner said the plan would allow new Novices to participate in HF SSB emergency nets on 75 and 40 meters as well as on the top 100 kHz of 15 meters. The new license also could get another name, Sumner said. "We're trying to recapture the magic of the old Novice license, but in a manner that's appropriate for the 21st century."

Proposal Includes "Novice Refarming" Band Plan

The overall proposed ARRL license restructuring plan would more smoothly integrate HF spectrum privileges across the three license classes and would incorporate the "Novice refarming" plan the League put forth nearly two years ago in a Petition for Rule Making (RM-10413). The FCC has not yet acted on the ARRL plan, which would alter the current HF subbands. The Novice refarming proposal would eliminate the 80, 40 and 15-meter Novice/Technician Plus CW subbands as such and reuse that spectrum in part to expand phone/image subbands on 80 and 40 meters.

The ARRL license restructuring design calls for no changes in privileges for Extra and General class licensees on 160, 60, 30, 20, 17 or 12 meters. Novice licensees would have no access to those bands.

Proposed Phone/Image HF Subbands (Includes Novice Refarming Proposal)
80 Meters

Extra: 3.725-4.000 MHz (gain of 25 kHz)
General: 3.800-4.000 MHz (gain of 50 kHz)
Novice: 3.900-4.000 MHz (new)
40 meters

Extra: 7.125-7.300 MHz (gain of 25 kHz)
General: 7.175-7.300 MHz (gain of 50 kHz)
Novice: 7.200-7.300 MHz (new)
15 meters

Extra: 21.200-21.450 MHz (no change)
General: 21.275-21.450 MHz (gain of 25 kHz)
Novice: 21.350-21.450 MHz (new)
10 meters

Extra and General: 28.300-29.700 MHz (no change)
Novice: 28.300-28.500 MHz (no change)
Proposed CW/Data-Exclusive HF Subbands (Includes Novice Refarming Proposal)

80 meters

Extra: 3.500-3.725 MHz
General: 3.525-3.725 MHz
Novice: 3.550-3.700 MHz
40 meters

Extra: 7.000-7.125 MHz
General: 7.025-7.125 MHz
Novice: 7.050-7.125 MHz
15 meters

Extra: 21.000-21.200 MHz
General: 21.025-21.200 MHz
Novice: 21.050-21.200 MHz
10 meters

Extra/General: 28.000-28.300 MHz
Novice: 28.050-28.300 MHz