In 2018, the RAY BAUM’S Act was passed into law. Among other things, it required the FCC to adopt a set of fees to recover the costs of their operation. FCC Report and Order 20-184 is the end result, with new fee schedules for many licenses, including Amateur Radio, and the amateur radio license fee is now $35.
Amateur radio licensing was previously free-of-charge (aside from the nominal fee that some Volunteer Examiner teams charged).
|Type of Personal License Application||New Fee|
|Special Temporary Authority||$35|
|Vanity Call Sign||$35|
The original Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) had the fees at $50, but after the comment period, the FCC changed course and reduced them to $35 because they agree that amateur radio licensing is mostly automated.
Talk to Congress
The FCC also notes that while they heard many comments that amateur radio should be exempted from fees because of our public service activities, technical innovations and the like, they state:
While we agree that participation in the Amateur Radio Service offers important public interest benefits, that determination does not alter our obligation under RAY BAUM’s Act to adopt cost-based fees for processing applications regarding nonexempt service.https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/FCC-20-184A1.pdf
I read this as their way of telling us “if you don’t like it, get Congress to change the law.”
Not an Emergency Radio Service
This paragraph stood out to me:
While we are very much aware of these laudable and important services amateur radio licensees provide to the American public, we do not agree that amateur radio licenses fit within the section 8(d)(1)(B) exemption Congress provided.63 These specific exemptions do not apply to the amateur radio personal licenses. Emergency communications, for example, are voluntary and are not required by our rules.64 Further, there is no indication that most or all amateurs solely use their license for emergency communications; even the section of our rules allowing certain amateur operators to broadcast civil defense communications limit such authorization to periods of local, regional or national civil emergencies.65 As we have noted previously, “[w]hile the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communications service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications, is one of the underlying principles of the amateur service, the amateur service is not an emergency radio service.“https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/FCC-20-184A1.pdf
My intepretation of this is while emergency communications is part of the mission of the amateur radio service, it is not the only reason it exists. No amateur is required to perform emergency communications, that is entirely voluntary. Therefore, amateur radio is not considered an “emergency radio service” – note the distinction between “emergency communications” and “emergency radio service.”
Here’s my hot take on this – note that my opinion is subject to change: I’m fine with this. Our licenses last ten years, that makes it cost $3.50 per year. I think I can swing that, and accordingly I would guess that just about all hams can as well. I will be happy to help other hams as best I can if they truly can’t afford the fee.
I’d also like to point out that the rationale behind this seems sound to me – they have determined what it costs them to process applications and set the fees accordingly. I try to avoid politics on my site, but it’s refreshing to see a government agency trying to avoid operating at a deficit.
This is by no means comprehensive coverage of the new rules, the details are available in the full text. What are your thoughts on the topic? I would like to hear your comments!