[TCRA] End of an Era: FCC to Drop Morse Testing for All Amateur License Classes

Paul J Brooten - KB9TYC kb9tyc at tcra.org
Sat Dec 16 07:25:46 CST 2006


NEWINGTON, CT, Dec 15, 2006 -- In an historic move, the FCC has acted to
drop the Morse code requirement for all Amateur Radio license classes. The
Commission today adopted, but hasn't yet released, the long-awaited Report
and Order (R&O) in WT Docket 05-235, the "Morse code" proceeding. Also
today, the FCC adopted an Order on Reconsideration in WT Docket 04-140 --
the "omnibus" proceeding -- modifying the Amateur Radio rules in response to
an ARRL request to accommodate automatically controlled narrowband digital
stations on 80 meters in the wake of rule changes that became effective
today at 12:01 AM Eastern Time. The Commission said it will designate the
3585 to 3600 kHz frequency segment for such operations, although the segment
will remain available for CW, RTTY and data as it has been. In a break from
what's been the usual practice in Amateur Radio proceedings, the FCC only
issued a public notice at or about the close of business today and not the
actual Report & Order, so some details -- including the effective dates of
the two orders -- remain uncertain. Currently, Amateur Radio applicants for
General and higher class licenses have to pass a 5 WPM Morse code test to
operate on HF. Today's R&O will eliminate that requirement all around. 

"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," the FCC said.
The ARRL had asked the FCC to retain the 5 WPM for Amateur Extra class
applicants only. The FCC proposed earlier to drop the requirement across the
board, however, and it held to that decision in today's R&O. 

Perhaps more important, the FCC's action in WT Docket 05-235 appears to put
all Technician licensees on an equal footing: Once the R&O goes into effect,
holders of Technician class licenses will have equivalent HF privileges,
whether or not they've passed the 5 WPM Element 1 Morse examination. The FCC
said the R&O in the Morse code docket would eliminate a disparity in the
operating privileges for the Technician and Technician Plus class licensees
-- something the ARRL also has asked the Commission to correct following the
release of its July 2005 Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) in WT Docket

"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,"
the FCC said in its public notice. "Therefore, the FCC, in today's action,
afforded Technician and Technician Plus licensees identical operating

Technician licensees without Element 1 credit (ie, Tech Plus licensees)
currently have operating privileges on all amateur frequencies above 30 MHz.
Tech Pluses or Technicians with Element 1 credit have limited HF privileges
on 80, 40, 15 and 10 meters. Under the Part 97 rules the Commission proposed
last year in its NPRM in WT Docket 05-235, current Technicians lacking Morse
credit after the new rules went into effect would have had to upgrade to
General to earn any HF privileges. 

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, but the handwriting has been on the wall -- especially
since the FCC instituted an across-the-board 5 WPM Morse requirement
effective April 15, 2000, in the most-recent major Amateur Radio licensing
restructuring (WT Docket 98-143). 

The FCC said today's R&O in WT Docket 05-235 comports with revisions to the
international Radio Regulations resulting from the International
Telecommunication Union (ITU) World Radiocommunication Conference 2003
(WRC-03). At that gathering, delegates agreed to authorize each country to
determine whether or not to require that applicants demonstrate Morse code
proficiency in order to qualify for an Amateur Radio license with privileges
on frequencies below 30 MHz. 

The list of countries dropping the Morse requirement has been growing
steadily since WRC-03. A number of countries, including Canada, the UK and
several European nations, now no longer require applicants for an Amateur
Radio license to pass a Morse code test to gain HF operating privileges.
Following WRC-03, the FCC received several petitions for rule making asking
it to eliminate the Morse requirement in the US. 

Typically, the effective date of an FCC Order is 30 days after it appears in
the Federal Register. If that's the case, the Morse requirement and the
revised 80-meter segment for automatically controlled digital stations would
likely not go into effect until late January or early February 2007. That's
not clear from the public notice, however. The FCC can order its decision
effective upon release. 

The ARRL will provide any additional information on these important Part 97
rule revisions as it becomes available. 

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