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Hams must remove repeaters from CA mountaintops or pay huge fees [pdf] (shastadefense.com)
178 points by wrycoder 6 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 58 comments





This made the rounds a while back and was framed to be fairly clickbait[1]. From what I understand each agency pays into the tower operation and they just want hams to do the same.

[1] https://mobile.twitter.com/OH8STN/status/1179637421308293120


Why should they have to pay fees? These are entirely volunteer networks with no commercial purpose.

I don’t see how this is clickbait unless the demands were reasonable.

If money is the problem then California can find far saner and better means than this. I’m sure there are tons of analogies from similar situations with a small subsidized subset being excluded from fees, many with far more questionable reasoning.


You generally don’t get things for free just because you’re volunteering and have perhaps some useful function to society. Ham operators still have to pay for their radio equipment, after all. It’s not crazy that they would have to pay for other things that cost money (like towers).

Actually, you do. You have to look at the intentions of the fees and rules and how it affects everyone involved.

Often it is a no-brainer to allow volunteers to do their thing for free. And it is quite common, surely even in america.


A well-run society recognizes the incredible value offered by volunteers, and tries to help them succeed. Often that means giving them things for free when possible (e.g. when the US government gives tax breaks to non-profit organizations.)

In the software world, the equivalent is free accounts for open-source projects at places like GitHub and TravisCI.


Things not being free isn't a very compelling argument for inventing a problem and charging for its solution while adding no value.

That's called rent-seeking.


They want volunteers to pay commercial fees. That’s not really very sustainable for hobbiests.

Yet most repeaters are run that way. A large majority of my local ones are run off commercial towers and funded by the clubs/individuals that support them.

Hams at their own expense create and maintain a statewide emergency communication system and some government bureaucrat on a whim wants it all disbanded.

So the next time a city or state needs ham volunteers to maintain communications during an emergency they won't be able to do it. Even for California that's pretty fouled up.

My local club had a partnership with the local Red Cross, had our own club station and held meetings there for over sixty years. Then a new manager decides he can use the room we were using in the basement and kicked the club out. Sadly there was no appeal. I hope the California hams have better luck.


The decentralized emergency backbone argument is the best thing ham radio people have going for them. It’s so much more important than people realize. And it’s entirely volunteer run anyway, it’s not costing them anything.

Radio frequency bands are already publicly regulated and finely controlled for all other important purposes.


Administering ham bands does cost, especially when you're dragged into internal ham enthusiast politics - source, worked for our radio spectrum regulator.

Even better. The state could easily take the non commercial nature of the operation into consideration compared to the intention of the existing fee system. A whole lot of the internet lives off this idea of commercial users subsidizing, while also getting much in return, from the volunteer subset.

I’m curious though, does the cost also come from internal conflict or just from outsiders like local/state regulators?


We (NZ) do reduce licensing fees for the ham freqs.

But they can be a rich source of complaints when someone takes an internal club dispute onto the airwaves, and then you've got to send out the radio engineers to locate the offending signal(s), then begin enforcement action if needed.

CB bands are even worse for the petty politics on air because you access them via a GURL (general user radio license) which means anyone can buy a CB and go wild.

We also don't see much payback mainly because the types of comms ham operators can provide are incorporated into our existing emergency and disaster agencies.


I think you've hit the nail on the head with the 'types of comms hams can provide' comment.

UK perspective -- there isn't much hams can offer here either. An emergency response team wants a local repeater, you can't set it up on a ham ticket (at least not without an NOV and the cooperation of the RSGB ETCC).

But the rescue squad can get their own equipment, a local radio supplier might subsidise the cost, and all they need to use it is an Ofcom Business Radio licence (£70 for - I can't remember if it's three years or five).

Police, fire and rescue are largely kitted out with Airwave radios anyway these days. So why are the hams needed?

Emergency response is a hollow-as-heck argument, the training and experiment side is a far better one.

(ObFD: licensed UK ham, de M0OFX ex M6OFX/2E0OFX)


Here in my country, our emergency services and disaster response teams maintain their own resilient radio communication capacity. This includes HF capacity.

Does America not do that?


In the southwest, the U.S. doesn't supply a decent set of emergency comms to Native Americans, so volunteer hams supplement it.

Yes, of course. But those frequencies are off limits to civilians. The parent didn’t mean to imply that ham is our “only” emergency communication system, it’s just one of them.

The HAMs should start proposing they end-to-end encrypt the repeater operations, and wait for the NSA money tap to start pouring out to stop that and keep everything running just like it is now... /s

This is what you will get when you think some paper pushing clerk needs to decide what is good for others. California has already made up its mind. People have overwhelmingly voted for politicians to run everybody's life. This decision does not surprise me at all.

Public: Lets elect representatives.

Legislation: Lets pass a bill that lets technocrats decide the details on regulations.

Technocrats: I don't like the look for those emergency antennas from my vacation cabin in the mountains.

Gun-> shoot-> foot

Yay. Good luck with that, California. For some people it could be their purpose in life is just to serve as a example for others. This seems to be California's role as of late.


A redditor explained the situation pretty well, without the histrionics:

https://www.reddit.com/r/amateurradio/comments/dfn7tw/sate_o...


I've worked in commercial radio before. This is a bad idea. They're phasing out an old system because it's too slow to be useful. Slow voice coms are alway useful in an emergency. We setup a system to send plain text reports at 300 baud. It was fantastically fault tolerant and worked in terrible conditions, like those in an actual disaster. It had very few parts required and almost any computer that could emulate a serial port over usb could use it.

I don't see how requiring high speed coms in an emergency is practical. Keeping simple analogue links is the best way to make sure you can keep going. It also keeps things simple. In some situations you have 30 year old radios that have only been turned on 3 or 4 times a year in civil defence huts dotted around remote areas.

I'm not into amature radio in any way but I just don't understand that call at all.


1200 baud email is extremely standard in EmComm ham radio using winlink. 1200 baud is still muuuuuuuuuch faster than voice and just as reliable. You can use a regular repeater and email each other via simplex if necessary.

> So, ham clubs are now being treated like any other commercial user of the mountaintop, and will have to pay leasing fees each year to be there. This whole letter just sounds like "MAN YELLS AT CLOUD"

They’re non-commercial though, and have a proven record of being valuable in emergencies. And I don’t mean “hey there’s a big fire” — I mean something really, really bad happened.


> The most noted change was the removal of all Amateur Radio capabilities and interoperability. They have become heavily reliant on high speed data systems and statewide linked repeaters, and simply don't see the value we brought to the table.

Still doesn’t seem that great. It seems very short sighted to charge ham operators commercial hosting fees (which are likely unsustainable for ham clubs). And should they be needed, they’ll still be unavailable.


Having a redundant comm system in an area prone to destruction of telecom infrastructure, e.g. fires and earthquakes, seems to be a no-brainer.

Removing them sees to be idiotic, at best. And callously reckless at the worst.


Honestly it depends a lot on the club, some hams are great to work with, others are way out there on the whacker scale.

The hobby has a shitton of gatekeeping and people stuck in their ways. My last club was pretty good but it really varies region to region.


We've had a lot of drama with our radio enthusiasts, especially after club schisms when someone starts continuously broadcasting an offensive song on the shared bands.

I’ve never heard this happen on US ham bands. I’m sure it has but the FCC takes violations seriously and will track down offenders.

This tends to be a thing with fan-run groups. I've been involved (at various points) with SFF, comics, furries (yes...) and hams. The drama is not unique to any of them, it's often the same drama with subtle twists.

And anyone saying "we should be better" gets hounded out.

Homeowners associations seem to be similar from the reports I've read.. power play on top of power play.


If they're already sharing a repeater site, then they're not overly redundant if that repeater goes down

The various local agencies have formal and informal arrangements with the local radio clubs in most of these areas I’m sure. The ham radio community is of immense help in emergency situations, and a well designed old school radio repeater network is basically indestructible in a natural disaster. It’s foolish to take away working comms that cost the state nothing for no reason.

It's pretty telling when they want almost 10 grand, about half of which is recurring, to draft and administer a lease without ever discussing what the lease might entail.

it's worrisome when combative tactics (arbitrarily large fees) are employed to reduce communication network availability, with little reason other than 'it's no longer useful for the state.' .

One hates to extrapolate what could be meant by the statement.

Does anyone know of any practical (legitimate/good) reason why anyone would want to dissolve this network?


I don't think anyone wants to dissolve any network. From the state letter (the histrionic complaint to which it is attached provided no useful additional information, but a lot of hyperventilation and irrelevancy), it looks like the State has been allowing collocated private ham radio equipment with neither formal agreement nor any charge on State property based on historically perceived public value (without such policy value, it would probably be, legally, a gift of state resources to a private party, which is prohibited), which it has reassessed and found no longer justified, and it has therefore provided notice that henceforth, a formal lease will be required for this use of State property.

The letter from Cal Fire says:

> I do understand and appreciate all of the service you have provided in the past. However, with > constantly changing technological advances, there is no longer the same benefit to State as > previously provided. Therefore, the Department no longer financially supports HAM operators > radios or tenancy. If you desire to enter into a formal agreement to operate and maintain said > equipment, you must complete and submit attached collocation application along with fee as > outlined on page one of application.

> There is cost associated with getting an agreement in place. In addition to the technical > analysis fee ($2500/application), there is DGS Lease admin cost associated (typically between > $3000-$5000) with preparation of lease. Also, there will be an annual rent charge based upon > equipment type/space.

>Please let me know how you wish to proceed. If you determine the cost is too great to proceed, > please make arrangements with me to remove equipment. If you still have questions, please do > not hesitate to ask. I am much more readily available via email.

If no action is taken, they will dissolve the network by removing the equipment.

There is no evidence to propose that the reason they are charging the hams is because they are charging their commercial tenants.

It also seems like an excuse, that it might be illegal to "gift" the hams a place on the tower. We'll probably reach that level of glorification of property rights soon, but for now, I'm assuming that it was legal to let the ham equipment reside there in previous years.

Someone decided they didn't want the things there any more, and this is the way they decided to do it. These new requirements are not the reason, but the implementation.

If someone says "the policy says so," and they make the policy, that's an excuse, not a reason.

I want to know what the original reason was.


"If we get rid of the hams, we can rent this tower space to cell phone companies for MEEEEELIONS".

Remember when BART blocked cell phone access to make it harder for protesters to organize? Fewer communication channels are easier to control. Controlling people is pretty much the definition of governing.

There's been a push in recent years to free up parts of the amateur bands for auction.

It doesn't seem particularly well thought out, to be honest. Power usage and interference are among the reasons that you probably don't want to own the amateur band... But some companies disagree.


Citation needed.

I've been a ham in the US for 11 years and not once has this come up. It's a commonly touted threat or rumor that could happen, but not a single proposal has made it through the FCC (or has even been proposed afaik), nor has the FCC made any public advances to do such a thing. One recent thwarted infiltration was a proposal by Thales to make 2m amateur spectrum shared with radionavigation, which was quickly put down.


3450 to 3550 MHz (of which 3450 to 3500 MHz is allocated to Amateur Radio) is being looked at.

https://www.multichannel.com/news/spectrum-now-act-introduce...

https://www.ntia.doc.gov/files/ntia/publications/spectrum_re...


I didn't say the FCC was being shown to be open to this, but that some companies were making the push for it. Like Thales.

I feel like I'm missing something, the document mentioned a lease, so I am wondering if these repeaters reside on Cal fire owned property, or owned towers. They're not exactly small pieces of equipment, besides the mast and the actual radios, the filters (diplexer) take up quite a lot of space, and there's likely a generator on site as well.

Regardless of land or tower ownership, the provided email doesn't have any timeline, which is somewhat unprofessional when we're talking about something that takes weeks to remove.


> Regardless of land or tower ownership, the provided email doesn't have any timeline, which is somewhat unprofessional when we're talking about something that takes weeks to remove.

It also doesn't have actual lease cost, just some cost ranges for some administrative fees associated with the lease. It seems to be an attempt to determine if further discussion should be directed at developing a plan and timeline for removal or at setting up a lease, not being a notice to pay or leave by a set date.


Depends on the kit you're running.

A Hytera RD985 DMR/Analog mixed-mode duplexer is 2RU in height and the duplexer (a diplexer is a different thing) is internal if you buy the fitting kit.

I have a Raycom analog repeater which is 1RU, including the internal duplexer and a basic repeater controller.

If you want to use a beer-keg duplexer then yes, that'll cost more rackspace. Probably another 5-6RU.

And if you insist on running an old, obsolete Motorola analog repeater (say, a Eurobase), you're into 3RU to start, plus the duplexer (the Moto standard ones of that era are usually 2-3RU).


> so I am wondering if these repeaters reside on Cal fire owned property

The linked article is a terrible source sadly for understanding the full picture. Yes, the gear in question is located on state owned property and have been allowed there without anything more than a handshake agreement historically.


California insists on following its own drummer.

There is a National Emergency Communications Plan available at https://www.cisa.gov/necp. Duly-licensed amateur radio operators are discussed under AUXCOMM in the plan as a type of resource states typically choose to utilize. Again, California's needs are apparently different than the other 49 states. More power to them, I suppose?


just skimmed thru the PDF and it seems, the ham repeaters are in the way of somebody that wants to monetize something that is free and public.

"If you desire to enter into a formal agreement to operate and maintain said equipment, you must complete and submit attached collocation application along with fee as outlined on page one of application. There is cost associated with getting an agreement in place. In addition to the technical analysis fee ($2500/application), there is DGS Lease admin cost associated (typically between $3000-$5000) with preparation of lease. Also, there will be an annual rent charge based upon equipment type/space."

2500$ tech analysis fee /aplication; 3000-5000 admin fee - - annual rent

so 5.5 - 7.5 k just to pay administrative, then rent on top. i wonder what would be said if repeaters reverted to a guy on a hilltop with two transciever sets and some braincells.


In my area we frequently do service events for races (foot, bike, and autocross), and this is exactly what we do in the hills of the Mark Twain forest in Missouri. It works great, and you don't even need braincells for most of the event. Drive/Hike to a good peak, set up a station, and forget it (until it breaks).

This seems like a capricious and ill thought out decision. Does anyone have more context that might shed more light?


Nothing in the link is clickbait though. It's a town repeater station being told to vacate land because "advancing technology" has rendered it's benefit to the state obsolete. They then request $7500 to perform a study to draft a lease and $5000 a year to administer that lease once the amount is determined.

Most of the link is the site operator's response to the administration and it's all very level headed and well thought out.


Maybe those guys who just made millions selling off part of 44/8 can pitch in a few bucks to help cover the fees.

Don't forget nearly every law forcing people to comply at gunpoint is passed by a special interest group representing corporate profit motives. If there are any real investigative reporters left I bet the money trail could be followed and I wouldn't be the least surprised if there is a company in the wings looking to supplant the volunteer system for a chunk of taxpayer money.

Is there a site with the background on this? There must have been more communication prior to the single email included in this PDF. Something other than the Shasta Defense site which is impossible to read.

Well written letter. I hope this gets the attention they deserve.

Any chance of this hitting NYT or one of the big California publications?


California might be in a stronger position to maintain their own institutions if the state wasn't more than $400 billion in debt. Perhaps the state government actually needs volunteer help...




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