A Call to Engineers: Keep Ham Radio Open for Our Youth
By Theodore Rappaport
Tuesday, April 23, 2019 | Comments
As a veteran educator and research center director at three large universities, I've had the thrill of seeing more than 10 generations of students obtain electrical and computer engineering degrees and pursue technical careers around the world. Common traits that I've seen repeated in the successful matriculation of thousands of students include an appreciation for the engineering process, built on integrity; the open exchange of ideas; and accuracy in solving problems.

These values echo the Engineers’ Creed, which calls all engineers to:
• Give the utmost of performance;
• Participate in none but honest enterprise;
• Live and work according to the laws of man and the highest standards of professional conduct;
• Place service before profit, the honor and standing of the profession before personal advantage, and the public welfare above all other considerations.

Many of the students I've had the pleasure of working with became interested in the hobby of amateur radio, also called "ham radio," the same hobby that led me to pursue a career in electrical engineering.

I have always believed that the ham radio hobby has been a vital part of the cultivation of engineering talent around the world. Past great hams, who were licensed as teenagers, include Frederick Terman, the Stanford dean who founded Silicon Valley; Arthur Collins, the man who created Collins Radio Co. (later Rockwell Collins); and Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh.

The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) recently reported the number of American ham radio operators has seen anemic 1% annual growth during the past decade or more, with fewer numbers of young hams entering the hobby. Concurrent with this poor attraction of youth, ARRL has placed a large emphasis on emergency communications and has tacitly approved, and at times outright endorsed, the widespread use of effectively encrypted data on the HF bands that travel around the world via the ionosphere.

The FCC has always been clear throughout its Part 97 rules that all ham radio transmitted signals must be unobscured and "out in the open,” so other hams and the public may listen in. Especially in emergencies, the FCC has been clear that others need to hear what is happening so they can alert authorities. The social contract of ham radio, in exchange for the valuable use of public spectrum, is that all may participate and learn, with the understanding that business use, privacy and bypass of other commercial means are prohibited.

To rectify this ongoing problem of effective encryption in amateur radio and to open the airwaves so that computer enthusiasts may intercept and experiment and learn from all transmissions, the FCC recently published rulemaking proposal RM-11831, which would reiterate the need to keep all data communications open for all to intercept while keeping email relay stations in their own allocated many subbands.

Many who are improperly using HF radio for free private email are spreading false information about the proposal and its impacts. The proposal would not end emailing in amateur radio; it would just open up the messages so all can hear and intercept. The rancor and misinformation about RM-11831 is a clear indication of the degradation of the hobby and the urgency for amateur radio to return to its engineering roots and open transmissions, both of which are vital prerequisites to attract young hams who can participate in the hobby and grow up with values that mirror the Engineers’ Creed.

To preserve the basic tenets of amateur radio, I see an urgent need for the engineering community to write to the FCC in droves, file comments in favor of RM-11831, and support the concept of all ham radio data being open for reception by the public and would-be hobbyists. Open transmissions don’t harm emergency communications or relay stations; they should be able to be decoded by all hams and the public. The FCC is taking comments until April 25.

Thus far, the vocal minority has been virtually unopposed in trying to turn the amateur radio hobby into a secure email system for boaters and RVers, rather than a hobby that is open, transparent and steeped in the values that lead youth to pursue careers in engineering. Engineers need to pay it forward and support open source and available decoding for transparency in ham radio. Write to the FCC and Congress to keep the airwaves open for all.

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Theodore Rappaport, Ph.D., has more than 100 U.S. or international patents issued or pending and has authored, co-authored and co-edited over 200 papers and 20 books in the wireless field. He is the David Lee/Ernst Weber professor of electrical and computer engineering at the New York University (NYU) Tandon School of Engineering. He is a pioneer in RF propagation, wireless systems simulation and 5G networks.

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On 5/7/19, SHIBAN RAINA said:
Please leave ham radio in open format. No privacy. Encryption defeats the purpose of amateur radios.

On 5/1/19, BAHADUR SANJANA said:
I am VU2SP in India.
I was sailing as a marine radio officer.
I am 75 years of age in the business of marine communications navigation sets.
I have always been a ham with my handmade rig.
Thanks for your article.

On 4/25/19, Leon van der Linde said:
An interesting concept. I do agree to keep it open.
The one thing I do not agree with is during emergencies there is information that should not be open to the public. This information can cause panic.
We have had emergencies in our country, and listeners on the ham bands have caused problems during the emergencies.
Just another comment. There are numerous countries in the world that do not recognize amateur radio, and they assign the frequencies to users in their country's military police and fishing fleets. This causes chaos in our areas, and it seems the ITU and the IARU are powerless in controlling this.

On 4/25/19, Phil Karn said:
I strongly agree with Ted that ham radio must be kept open. But I completely disagree with his misguided proposal and I've explained why in my formal comments to the FCC.

Physics and math both dictate that ANYTHING we might do to make a communication more efficient and thus contribute to the radio art as hams are supposed to do WILL make it harder to monitor — even if that's not the intention. So if Ted succeeds in replacing the current and correct intent-to-obscure rule with a monitorability requirement that supersedes all else he will fail at his stated goal, AND technical experimentation and advancement in ham radio will come to a screeching halt.

Ted really ought to know better than to use disingenuous terms like "effectively encrypted." I've tried to clarify these points privately with Ted but he repeatedly evades my questions. He seems to be on some sort of vendetta against Pactor and Winlink that I don't fully understand since they ARE documented messages, ARE logged for public review and off-air monitoring capabilities DO exist. It's very sad.

On 4/25/19, Loring Kutchins said:
Note this is an advertisement in the red header. Be suspicious of this man who pays a New York PR firm to propagate his articles. Do your homework before commenting to the FCC with this position. How disingenuous to invoke the Engineers' Creed.

On 4/25/19, Jon Grosjean said:
Dr. Rappaport is essentially a troublemaker. He is also opposed to changing the baud rate limitation on HF to a bandwidth limitation like all the other services have. Winlink can be used to connect to land-based email when the internet fails in a local area or from vessels at sea, and since email is encrypted, he is opposed to it because drug traffickers might use it.

On 4/25/19, Ralph T. Murray said:
I am guessing the author is talking about digital modes on amateur radio such as FT8 PSK 31 and all of the other digital modes. If so software is readily available to decode such messages transmitted using those digital modes. So I see no issues with amateur radio operators using them. I would be more concerned about public-safety agencies like law enforcement and other such groups using encryption technology so that the public using scanners cannot hear what they are doing. The fight for spectrum by various entities is heating up each day.

On 4/25/19, Gerald Rick Muething said:
I have been a ham since 1962, started two successful Silicon Valley startups, and continue to support and promote ham radio today through the development of enhanced free digital radio protocols like WINMOR and ARDOP. Professor Rappaport has systematically engaged in promoting this flawed RM-11831 and distorting, e.g., using inflammatory and incorrect or incomplete descriptions such as virtual encryption to support his agenda. Some of the transmission protocols and techniques he claims are illegal have been included in FCC Part 97 amateur rules and been in common use in ham radio starting in the early 1980s, such as packet radio and FBB B1 data compression.

Monitoring a third party unconnected ARQ (Automatic Repeat reQuest) session is possible but requires the proper equipment software knowledge of what one is doing AND a quality received signal. This is conceptually no different than listening in on a voice RTTY or packet conversation. All digital modes in amateur service permit monitoring with the proper equipment software knowledge and quality signal. NO mode digital or otherwise ensures it can be copied either all or in part by EVERY third party monitor because of poor propagation equipment, local noise or lack of knowledge, and the proponents of RM-11831 understand this but choose to ignore it in promoting their agenda. I would encourage those interested in this rule and amateur digital technology to dig into the details themselves and talk to those hams and engineers who understand and have been long time users of amateur radio digital modes. The U.S. FCC has been slow to adopt worldwide practices and new technology in digital ham radio, and RM-11831 will insure we will lag further behind other amateurs from more progressive countries like Germany, Canada and Mexico that already use and support modern digital technology.

Gerald Rick Muething, KN6KB

On 4/25/19, Jim Piper said:
ARRL has placed a large emphasis on emergency communications.

Mr. Rapport conveniently neglects to mention the lead-in statements of the US Code of Regulations Part 97 Amateur Radio Service 97.1 Basis and Purpose.
The rules and regulations in this part are designed to provide an amateur radio service having a fundamental purpose as expressed in the following principles: a recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.

Now he cites the slow growth of licensed amateur radio operators with fewer numbers of young hams entering the hobby, suggesting that the ARRL's large emphasis on emergency communications to be in part a reason for the slow growth. As an ARRL member and given Part 97 of the FCC rules, I have been sorely disappointed by the ARRL's seriously poor emphasis on emergency communications.

True that especially in emergencies the FCC has been clear that others need to hear what is happening so they can alert authorities. Where Mr. Rappaport is on a mission to change the rules regarding DIGITAL messaging, I submit with strong confidence that emergency communications are passed by phone voice. To imply that an emergency message would be passed in an email message is, in my opinion, ludicrous.

Mr. Rappaport as witnessed by his appearance in the pages of MissionCritical Communications is apparently standing on a soapbox to sell his position to anyone who will listen.

In other forums he specifically attacks the legitimate use of PACTOR as a digital modulation mode and Winlink a radio email utility because they are not directly readable over the air; rather they require a modem to read. Why he attacks these specifically and not several others that require proprietary modems; e.g. HAL Communication's Clover he never mentions.

He submits the red herrings of threat to national security, really, with the capabilities of NSA to decrypt messages to illicit use of the ham bands by boaters and RVers? He further suggests that the vocal minority has been virtually unopposed re this illicit use to turn the amateur radio hobby into a secure email system. His comments above suggest he has not been following or is ignoring the ham community's vocal opposition to unlicensed use of the amateur radio bands, regardless whether phone or digital unlicensed operation is an enforcement issue.

Discussions can be found on Facebook as well as other forums plus the FCC comments pages. I would also direct the interested reader to Winlink.org for a presentation of what Winlink is and its purported message encryption.

I have no idea why Mr. Rappaport is on a campaign against Winlink Pactor and the further advancement of digital modes within the amateur radio bands. Several times a year I live in the world of disaster relief where we partner with and need the support of the amateur radio community. Winlink as well as other digital modes that Mr. Rappaport doesn't target are invaluable in managing and passing disaster-related traffic.

On 4/25/19, JEROME KUTCHE said:
As an engineer you should know this. Nothing is encrypted. Compressed yes and even that is published. You and IDT are on a blatant direct attack of your fellow hams. How unbecoming. When we asked for cooperation, it's a stern NO. You only want one thing and it's the elimination of WINLINK PACTOR. Sorry won't happen. Unless the FCC wants to send ham radio back 50 years.
Also open source only get real. Read up on it. https://forums.qrz.com/index.php/threads/new-digital-petition-at-the-fcc-rm-11831.652589. See the 142 so far pages for your self. And Judge. 73 Jerry, N9LYA

On 4/24/19, Dominic F Tusa said:
Mr. Rappaport is 100% on target. Amateur radio communications have always been open nonencrypted. The amateur radio service exists to promote the development of new tools and technology and as a voluntary emergency communications capability in the backdrop of local national conditions.

The technologists and engineers of the Post War-generation and today embrace amateur radio as one shared radio electronics laboratory. The hobby provides individual growth incentives in the form of spectrum privileges that are earned via an established testing process.

What amateur radio is not is a replacement for private business radio services. It is a hobby for FCC-licensed individuals. While business interests potentially have needs for secure encrypted communications, such as for competitive reasons, no such need exists within the amateur radio service. In the spirit of education and furthering the art and science of communications, proposals to allow encryption within the amateur radio service should be discouraged.

We amateur ham ops are not competing with other FCC-regulated services. We are learning from each other through the free unimpeded exchange of information ideas and experimentation findings. Often this is done via on-air communications as part of the service's granted privileges. Should someone or a group desire a secure, encrypted wireless email system those resources are commercially available elsewhere.

Dominic (Nick) Tusa, K5EF

On 4/24/19, Lex Rutter said:
I have been following this issue on some amateur radio forums, and I do agree with Mr. Rappaport about the need for open and clear communications.

The arguments against the proposal that I have seen are different than those mentioned here but have a similar effect.

As an amateur operator, I support the effort to ensure all encoded traffic happens with open and readily available systems. Given the effort I am seeing on those other forums to defeat this measure it would be very appropriate for all interested parties to wade in officially.

On 4/24/19, Jeff Cherry said:
Nonsense aside, first thing it says in Part 97, which the author failed to read, is that hams will use the best engineering practices of which Pactor 4 is the current pinnacle. Secondly, Pactor is not a form of encryption, and public service is what ham radio was supposed to be about. To that end, efficent use of radio requires faster data protocols than CW or Teletype be available for disaster communications. I am in the Red Cross, and we need reliable communications when the fan quits turning. So tell the shill for cellular companies to sit down and be quiet.

On 4/24/19, Cliff said:
I don't know what has Theodore Rappaport in such a tither about data compression over the Part 97 regulated RF spectrum. Has he tried to intercept a GMSK or C4FM modulated signal? The D Star system uses an available but propriety vocoder. Yet it is used all around the world. His argument of not being able to decode the intercepted data stream directly into plain ASCII text is ridiculous. The data is not encrypted but only compressed. If he thinks that budding engineers are incapable of analyzing that data stream and reverse engineering the compression into plain text then that individual will more likely go in to civil engineering instead.

There is one primary reason for the compression symbol rate. That antiquated symbol rate limit has done more to stifle 97.1, a, b, c and d than any other limitation. The second most restrictive can be found in 97.307, f . It is really difficult to build a better mouse trap when the specifications of the mouse trap are already cast in the Federal Register.

It is time to institute a regulation by bandwidth whereby the occupied spectrum is the only limiting factor.

Trying to implement the restrictions that Rappaport desires would really set the amateur radio service back about 50 years. It seems there is a new digital mode every week on the Part 97 spectrum. Each of those would need to be documented, tested and debugged off air somehow before allowed for amateur use if Rappaport had his way. The 90 radio service has been forced to make more efficient use of its spectrum. It is time to at least allow 97 users to do the same.

If the amateur radio service is to continue and extend the amateur's proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art as stated in 97.1b, RM-11831 must be relegated to the dust bin of bad ideas.

Instead the FCC needs to revamp 97 by instituting a regulation by bandwidth and leave the symbol rate in the halls of museums as it did with the requirement for Morse Code.

On 4/24/19, William Collinson said:
Dr. Rappaport thank you for this clear and concise call to action for all those with an interest in the preservation of the very intent of our amateur radio service and spectrum. I completely agree that the special interests who have co-opted specific HF spectrum for uses that are outside the stated purpose of the amateur bands are carrying forward a voice that is not representative of the majority. I have filed a comment in support of RM-11831 and encourage all with an interest in preserving our legacy of ham radio to do the same.

On 4/24/19, William Collinson said:
I respectfully disagree with Jeff Cherry on the grounds that Pactor is a proprietary licensed protocol that is not openly available to the general public and licensed ham operators. There are other truly open source methods of encoding digital data over HF that remain within the intent and the letter of the established FCC rules. Simply stating that the current use of Pactor 4 services solves a need doesn't mean that it does so within the rules. There are alternative means to reach the same end that remain truly open to decoding and intercept by -all- amateur radio users.

On 4/24/19, Rick Scholl said:
I agree with communications not being encrypted. However, I find it interesting that he quotes the creed and says place service before profit, the honor and standing of the profession before personal advantage and the public welfare above all other considerations, and then lists that he has over 100 patents. I see patents as profit before service, and I see too many companies trying to enrich themselves with their patent portfolios. The world would see more advancement if we got rid of most patents.

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