Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a Report and Order and Order on Reconsideration (Order) that modifies the rules for the Amateur Radio Service by revising the examination requirements for obtaining a General Class or Amateur Extra Class amateur radio operator license and revising the operating privileges for Technician Class licensees. In addition, the Order resolves a petition filed by the American Radio Relay League, Inc. (ARRL) for partial reconsideration of an FCC Order on amateur service rules released on October 10, 2006.
The current amateur service operator license structure contains three classes of amateur radio operator licenses: Technician Class, General Class, and Amateur Extra Class. General Class and Amateur Extra Class licensees are permitted to operate in Amateur bands below 30 MHz, while the introductory Technician Class licensees are only permitted to operate in bands above 30 MHz. Prior to today’s action, the FCC, in accordance with international radio regulations, required applicants for General Class and Amateur Extra Class operator licenses to pass a five words-per-minute Morse code examination. Today’s Order eliminates that requirement for General and Amateur Extra licensees. This change reflects revisions to international radio regulations made at the International Telecommunication Union’s 2003 World Radio Conference (WRC-03), which authorized each country to determine whether to require that individuals demonstrate Morse code proficiency in order to qualify for an amateur radio license with transmitting privileges on frequencies below 30 MHz. This change eliminates an unnecessary regulatory burden that may discourage current amateur radio operators from advancing their skills and participating more fully in the benefits of amateur radio.
Today’s Order also revises the operating privileges for Technician Class licensees by eliminating a disparity in the operating privileges for the Technician Class and Technician Plus Class licensees. Technician Class licensees are authorized operating privileges on all amateur frequencies above 30 MHz. The Technician Plus Class license, which is an operator license class that existed prior the FCC’s simplification of the amateur license structure in 1999 and was grandfathered after that time, authorized operating privileges on all amateur frequencies above 30 MHz, as well as frequency segments in four HF bands (below 30 MHz) after the successful completion of a Morse code examination. With today’s elimination of the Morse code exam requirements, the FCC concluded that the disparity between the operating privileges of Technician Class licensees and Technician Plus Class licensees should not be retained. Therefore, the FCC, in today’s action, afforded Technician and Technician Plus licensees identical operating privileges.
In essence, the FCC has dropped the requirement for operators to be proficient in sending and receiving morse code and extended voice privileges in the HF band to those with the entry level licenses.
In an article posted on it's website, the American Radio Relay League indicates that not all enthusiasts will be happy with elimination of the requirement to be able to send and receive code:
The wholesale elimination of a Morse code requirement for all license classes ends a longstanding national and international regulatory tradition in the requirements to gain access to Amateur Radio frequencies below 30 MHz. The first no-code license in the US was the Technician ticket, instituted in 1991. The question of whether or not to drop the Morse requirement altogether has been the subject of often-heated debate over the past several years....
Amateur radio operators of yore loved the code requirement. It kept those who aren't serious about HAM Radio off the airwaves. The problem is that as the years go by fewer and fewer people are interested in the hobby. Many old timers want to keep the hobby pure, while others believe that the hobby will disappear without an influx of enthusiasts.
Today's ruling will prove the worst of both arguments. There will be a quick bump of people with old equipment who will jump on and "junk up" the HF airwaves. These newcomers will quickly realize that there is almost nothing cool about amateur radio anymore. They will discover that the equipment and the people who operate it are "old school" and pretty limited when compared to any technology available in commercial radios or on the internet. These newcomers will then leave, the existing operators will slowly die off and in another ten years the FCC will close the door on this chapter of radio history.