Rant from Riverton: Why we must embrace IP-based ham links as "real" amateur radio

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A recent Facebook post on 100 Watts and a Wire triggered a debate on the claims that IP-based linked amateur radio systems like Echolink are not "real" amateur radio and that for it to be true radio, it must be a complete radio connection without the use of any terrestrial facilities such as wireline or IP.

Radio, historically has had used different forms of "non-radio" in order to connect people. For many years, many public safety providers have used wireline links to connect a dispatch console (control point) at a police or fire department to a hilltop 2-way radio site. Broadcast stations, have used a mix of radio and wireline methods of establishing studio to transmitter communications. The early national radio networks (i.e. NBC, CBS) were AT&T phone lines. Are these things not "radio"? 

When I was younger, there was nothing more amazing to me than a linked repeater system. We had one open repeater in Southern California that had linked repeaters all the way to Las Vegas. It was nice to get on the Vegas repeater and talk to friends back home. 

In Southern California, the 220~222 MHz band was used extensively for backhaul repeater links. It was probably only one of the places in the country where it was used extensively for this purpose. Obviously, frequency coordinators do not publicly list these linked systems (nor should they) so obviously, they would not be listed in the ARRL Repeater Directory. Because of the lack of listings and due to the lack of defense by the ARRL at the time (under the impression that no one uses that spectrum due to the absence of listings in the Repeater Directory), the FCC agreed that the spectrum was underutilized (and in fairness, it probably was in many other parts of the country), and we lost one of the best pieces of spectrum for this purpose (and what started what was nearly a 25 year drought in my ARRL membership).

The way I see it, as someone who has been licensed for 33 years, there is still a lot of work and expense in placing and maintaining a repeater on a hilltop or on a large broadcast tower. We are in a time where in some places (such as out here on the Delmarva peninsula), if you even hear a kerchunk on a non-linked repeater, you are lucky. Even though I long for the days of the tinny audio and multiple courtesy tones of a radio linked repeater system from long long ago, the IP-based linked systems provide something the stand-alone repeaters are not, activity. Activity that will preserve our allocations into the future. This is activity that is listed in an ARRL Repeater Directory and is a demonstration to lawmakers and others that we, the amateur radio community are actually using the slithers of spectrum that are allocated to our service. 

Those who complain about new technology not "being radio" are those who just don't want to see change in any part of what they had in the past. This attitude goes past radio and into many forms of modern American life. Many of these folks will not be around to experience the progress that many are promoting these days. 

If Echolink and other similar networks can preserve amateur spectrum to be enjoyed by our children and grandchildren, then we must embrace it. It will be up to our children and grandchildren to embrace the amateur technology that comes next. We must instill that value in them to use, recognize and respect the past while embracing the future. Otherwise, we go to the grave knowing that Google and Verizon won.

Michelle (Michi) Bradley
KU3N