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It Seems to Us: Our Global Community

09/28/2009

There are radio amateurs all over the world -- and even above it, orbiting on the International Space Station! We are a select group, each having qualified for a license issued by our telecommunications administration in accordance with international regulations. We are also remarkably diverse, spanning the full ranges of ethnicity, cultural and religious traditions and political thought. Granted, the most impoverished have no opportunity to be radio amateurs -- but many of the greatest contributors to our global community are of very modest means. A radio signal sounds pretty much the same whether it comes from the latest, most expensive transceiver or from a homebrew transmitter built from castoff components, and its effectiveness depends more on the skill of the operator than on the price tag.

An attentive listener can trace population shifts from what he or she hears on the ham bands. The movement of retirees from the Northeast to Florida is evident from both call signs and accents. More subtle are the swelling of the ranks of Israeli amateurs by emigration from the former Soviet Union and of Canadian amateurs drawn from there as well as from other Eastern European countries, to name but two examples.

Amateur Radio is growing impressively in China and in some other Asian countries that are making the transition to technology-based economies. By contrast, in most countries where Amateur Radio is a mature activity the licensing figures are trending downward. Among the exceptions to that trend are Australia, where effective promotion of an entry level "Foundation" license by the WIA has brought in a wave of newcomers, and the US. Apparently fueled by public awareness of our role in disaster mitigation, the issuance of new FCC licenses has increased every year since 2005. The 10-year license term builds a lot of inertia into the figure for total licenses, but that is climbing once again.

The United States now has the largest number of Amateur Radio stations of any country, although the number of amateurs per capita is a bit greater in several others. The ARRL is the largest Amateur Radio organization in the world but is not the oldest; the Wireless Institute of Australia lays claim to that distinction (the WIA is preparing to celebrate its centennial next year) followed by the Radio Society of Great Britain. Outstanding operators and technical innovators hail from dozens of countries, yet it is fair to say that our colleagues abroad often look in the ARRL's direction for leadership -- particularly in the field of emergency and disaster communications.

The ARRL's international leadership also takes the form of service as the International Secretariat (IS) of the International Amateur Radio Union. The IARU Constitution places some obligations on the member-society that serves as the IS. In exchange, that member-society has the prerogative to manage the nomination process for the volunteer positions of IARU President and Vice President and to appoint the IARU Secretary. For the first time in its history both the President and the Vice President of the IARU -- Tim Ellam, VE6SH and Ole Garpestad, LA2RR respectively -- are from outside the US. Tim and Ole were nominated for five-year terms by the ARRL following a lengthy consultative process with the regional representatives on the IARU Administrative Council and other opinion leaders within the IARU community.

As of October 1 the IARU Secretary will be Rod Stafford, W6ROD. Rod has served the ARRL as a volunteer for more than 25 years, including as Section Manager, Director, and Vice President prior to becoming President in 1995. He moved to his current ARRL post of International Affairs Vice President in 2000. Since 1998 Rod also has served IARU Region 2 as Secretary, President, and regional director. The October 1 date is not arbitrary; Rod is willing to assume this new volunteer role as IARU Secretary upon his retirement as a Superior Court Judge in Santa Clara County, California.

Our support of the IARU is hardly a one-way street. While we rightly think of the FCC as our most important regulatory body, radio waves do not respect borders and the use of the radio spectrum is not purely a domestic matter. As far as radio is concerned, the FCC regulations exist within a framework of international regulations.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the body through which nations seek agreement on how the radio spectrum is to be used, through complex negotiations at World Radiocommunication Conferences (WRCs). The IARU is a Sector Member of the ITU in both the Radiocommunication and Development Sectors and is recognized by the ITU as the international organization representing the amateur services. While the IARU and similar organizations have no vote at WRCs, they have the opportunity to participate in preparatory work and to attend and observe the conferences themselves.

Regional telecommunications organizations such as CITEL, the Inter-American Telecommunication Commission, play a major role in the ITU decision-making process. It is through IARU Region 2 that Amateur Radio participates in the work of CITEL.

As Americans we have no chance to influence other governments or regional telecommunications organizations other than CITEL, yet we must have their support to achieve our own objectives. Scores of volunteers from all around the planet contribute to the work of the IARU, its three regional organizations and its national member-societies, accomplishing what we cannot do ourselves. What they do benefits us all, whether or not we ever make a radio contact outside our own country -- or county.

David Sumner, K1ZZ
ARRL Chief Executive Officer



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