Is Ham Radio a Hobby, a Utility…or Both? A Battle Over Spectrum Heats Up

Some think automated radio emails are mucking up the spectrum reserved for amateur radio, while others say these new offerings provide a useful service

Like many amateur radio fans his age, Ron Kolarik, 71, still recalls the “pure magic” of his first ham experience nearly 60 years ago. Lately, though, encrypted messages have begun to infiltrate the amateur bands in ways that he says are antithetical to the spirit of this beloved hobby.

So Kolarik filed a petition, RM-11831 [PDF], to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposing a rule change to “Reduce Interference and Add Transparency to Digital Data Communications.” And as the proposal makes its way through the FCC’s process, it has stirred up heated debate that goes straight to the heart of what ham radio is, and ought to be.

The core questions: Should amateur radio—and its precious spectrum—be protected purely as a hobby, or is it a utility that delivers data traffic? Or is it both? And who gets to decide?

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