The FCC announced earlier this week that they are considering a drastic cutback to it’s Field Enforcement Bureau in the US. At first glance, this seems like a good thing. No more “Big Brother” watching over our shoulders, no more dark figures hunched over radios with oversized headsets on slowly creeping across the bands.
But in reality, the FCC’s monitoring program has helped the hobby in it’s quest to keep the airspace respectable and clean, and in so doing, has made our hobby more enjoyable, and less tarnished in the eyes of those we share the spectrum with.
Historically, Ham radio has had it’s bad kids. Ask any Ham radio operator what they think of CBers on 11M, for example, or swing your dial to 14.313 Mc and listen for a couple minutes (if you can stomache it). To be fair, CBers in and of themselves aren’t the bad guys here, but they do have a reputation (being an ex-CBer myself, I sorta get it).
So what can we expect the fallout to be? Will the beloved amateur bands turn from friendly ragchewing to cursing, singing out-of-tune country songs and talking about each other’s mamas? Or will sanity be preserved?
To be fair, the FCC has not really been the proverbial white knight that we’d like them to be. In fact, the FCC is notoriously slow to find and fine our ‘bad kids’. They do have bite when they need to, however. Look back at any of the recent enforcement actions, and you can see that though the don’t catch everyone in their skimpy enforcement dragnet, you certainly don’t want to be the one slow guy that doesn’t hide well enough!
Under the current proposal, the FCC will drop it’s field offices from 24 to 8 in the states. That’s pretty significant, even though they plan to do a better job at strategically placing them. Another part of the planned action is to seek out and establish partnerships with other organizations that could help them out in the mission of finding any foul-mouthed, country-singing and mama-insulting wayward radio ops.
There is, of course, such a partnership already in place: the Amateur Auxiliary of the FCC, also known as the Official Observers. These are members of our own ranks who diligently listen and report on bad activity on our bands. I’m not sure if anyone notices, but there are a LOT more OO’s out there than any Enforcement Bureau super-snooper site could man. In fact, I’d venture a guess that reports from the OO are the fooder that keep the FCC’s montoring branch healthy and well.
So do we even need Big Brother at all? Well, yes we do. OOs are trained to gather evidence and forward it up to the FCC. They’re not supposed to scold, finger-waggle, coach or otherwise try to hunt down the ‘perps’ with their DF gear and unplug antennas (although I have to say that sounds like a pretty good idea).
I think the shrinking of the FCCs enforcement bureau doesn’t have to be a catastrophy. It’ll probably mean slower response to our complaints, and maybe a few more may evade the dragnet, but in the end, it’s only us who will save the Amateur Service from self-destruction by operating properly, reporting those who don’t and continuing to work on improving our own reputation.