The following article was written for my final project in a semester-long Journalism class. Seeing as it covers recent topics in amateur radio, I thought it would be fitting to add the post here as well.
Since the early 1900s, the Federal Communications Commission has had a dedicated space of frequencies for amateur use only – anyone with a U.S. address can get a license and use this space. Since December 2020, I have been a licensed amateur radio operator operating under the callsign of KO4JZT, chatting with other local hams and working on projects such as building my own antennas.
Over the years, amateur radio operators have changed the way we communicate through the invention of new antenna designs, satellite communications methods, and digital technologies, just to name a few.
There have been no fees associated with licensing since the creation of the Amateur Radio license. The process is all controlled by other amateur operators, everything from testing to filing the paperwork with the FCC. Most of the time, new licensees are only obligated to pay a small fee for the volunteers running the testing session required before obtaining a license.
In September 2020, the FCC submitted an initial proposal of a $50 fee for all amateur licenses, upgrades, and renewals. This was later retracted, but on December 29th, 2020, the FCC proposed a new fee - $35 for any changes to an amateur radio license. That would include anything from new licenses and upgrades to renewals, but does not include basic administrative changes such as an information update.
Existing operators are worried about the new changes proposed by the FCC. Many speculate that fewer people will go to get licensed because of the price increase, changing the FCC's focus from providing a service to making a profit. Amateur operators across the internet have expressed their distaste for the changes and are pushing for the FCC not to implement them.
The Amateur Radio Relay League is a national organization with a mission to represent amateur radio operators through advocating to the FCC, providing resources to the media, and helping to educate new hams coming into the hobby. They published a response to a similar proposal back in September, saying that there was "no cost-based justification for application fees in the Amateur Radio Service", and it appears they are responding similarly to the 2021 proposal.
At this time, no other information is known as to when the fee will go into place or how it will be collected. There will be an announcement 30 days prior to the fee being implemented, so stay on the lookout for that information.
Josh Nass, callsign KI6NAZ, runs a popular YouTube channel on Amateur Radio called the Ham Radio Crash Course, and recently published a video detailing the fees and his thoughts around them. He says that "the time is now" to get your license before the fee goes into place. If you're interested in getting an amateur radio license and learning more about the hobby, take a look at getting the technician class license.
The ARRL offers a variety of books for the various license classes, and HamStudy.org offers practice tests and flashcard studying for the test. Once you're confident after a few days of studying, take a look at HamStudy's "Find a Session" page and sign up for the test.
With a technician class license, you can do communication over the VHF/UHF frequencies - capable of doing up to 60 miles line of sight communication, and worldwide communication using satellites. With a general class license, you're able to do world-wide communications with the high frequency bands, and participate in the HF contests and get awards for making long-distance contacts. The Amateur Extra class license gives you access to even more HF frequencies.
In the meantime, anyone is welcome to listen to local activity on amateur radio - you just cannot transmit! Many hams recommend picking up a cheap radio, such as the Baofeng UV-5R on Amazon, finding information about VHF/UHF repeaters near you, and listening to the variety of conversations and events that happen on them. RXFinder and RepeaterBook are two great sites for finding this information.
Amateur radio is a fascinating hobby, with activities for any type of operator. You can operate from a mountaintop with Summits on the Air, work from a state park with Parks on the Air, shoot for awards like the DXCC Award, or even build your own radio equipment. The more ham radio expands as a hobby, the more activities there becomes and the more communications expands. If you have any interest, go out and get licensed and contribute to this wonderful hobby.