Numbers stagnant, sustained by churn

Recent amateur licence statistics reveal a small growth over the past year, restoring licensee numbers close to where we were over a decade ago.  It seems that those leaving the hobby and those becoming silent keys are being replaced by both new licensees and lapsed licensees returning to the hobby in significant numbers.

 This “churn” has driven up amateur licence numbers slightly this past year and seems to have maintained them, with some small variation, over the years since 2006.  Peeling back the layers of the onion of amateur licensing statistics reveals an intriguing picture.

If we start with the latest annual report of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), released in October, it reveals total amateur licence numbers grew a mere 15 to 15,144 to June 2017. That number includes beacons, repeaters, clubs and those amateurs with multiple call signs.

Wireless Institute of Australia (WIA) Statistician, Marc Hillman VK3OHM, has trawled through the ACMA licence register and found that the total number of individual amateurs was 14,009, an increase of 175 from 2016. Although not statistically significant, it’s a move in the right direction.

That was achieved despite the ACMA reporting a fall in assessments. Over July 2016 to June 2017, the ACMA report records a total of 486 Foundation, Standard and Advanced assessments conducted by the WIA, which is well down on the 1271 held in the previous year.  So, although assessments declined sharply, amateur licences increased.

Shortly after the ACMA’s amateur licensing reform, which ushered-in the Foundation Licence and reduced the previous five licences to two – Standard and Advanced, the number of individual amateurs reached 14,002 in 2006. Numbers reached a peak of 14,616 in 2010, the WIA’s centenary year, then declined to 13,834 in 2016. In 2017, with 14,009 amateurs, we’re back to where we were in 2006.

In late 1997 or 20 years ago when the 1998 Call Book was compiled from the Australian Communications Authority’s newly-minted digital database, the number of amateur licences totalled 16,540. Excluding beacons, repeaters, clubs and multiples, the total number of individual amateurs was around 15,500.

The late-1990s through early 2000s saw a decline in the number of amateurs as the returned service men and women from WW II who took up amateur radio in the post-war boom began entering the ranks of silent keys, as had the generation of pre-war amateurs in the two decades beforehand. But those years – the ‘70s and ‘80s – brought the CB boom and its spinoff for Amateur Radio, which dissipated over the 1990s.

That generational churn sustained Amateur Radio through the late 20th century, but it petered-out over the early-2000s until the ACMA’s amateur licence reform, which kicked-in from 2005.  Amateur Radio in Australia needs another revamp. In 2014, in the lead-up to a statutory remake of the amateur licence conditions, the WIA advised the ACMA about the sort of changes that would propel Amateur Radio into a new era, where the attractions and conditions of the past were no longer relevant.

The remake ended up as an administrative patch-up as ACMA resources could not meet the demands of an extensive makeover and the federal government had begun a program of radical spectrum reform.  As a new radiocommunications act looked over the horizon, the WIA began to look at the matter over 2016 and sounded out the ACMA broadly on the approach that could be taken.

After circulating the likely licence conditions changes for comment, it further refined the issues ahead. Then, in early 2017 the WIA widely consulted on the way forward with those having an interest in Amateur Radio, licensed or not.

A submission from the WIA is to recommend a range of measures for the three classes of licence to make them relevant, attractive and fit-for-purpose in this tech-savvy world.  The ACMA is expected in 2018 to review what’s been proposed and prepare a new Licence Conditions Determination (LCD), our regulations, giving an opportunity to reshape the future of Amateur Radio in Australia.

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