Should you be licensed to buy a radio?

In Episode 132 of The Two Way Radio Show Podcast, we discuss the question of whether or not sellers of two way radios should require customers to be licensed before they can buy a transceiver. We tell you the results of a recent Twitter poll on the question, read feedback from respondents to the poll, and discuss the pros and cons of such a requirement.

TWRS-132 - Should You Be Licensed to Buy a Radio?

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The sheer cost of implementing such a system in the UK, let alone a huge country like the US suggests that the very sensible idea of requiring licences to buy will be too much. Retailers on or off line will push very hard to not do this. One, it reflects badly on sales - somebody with a few hundred in their outstretched palm putting it back in their pocket and not buying? Retail is hard enough without this. The other reason is simply they become unpaid government workers, keeping records probably consisting of serial numbers, customer names and addresses, plus possible fines if the names are made up and cash taken. Who would want this? The Government would need to set up a country wide organisation to do paperwork too - something expensive and ultimately pointless.

Years ago, if you applied for a business radio licence, you got a visit, and they would inspect the radio for type approval. Now, here, nobody cares as long as you don’t cause problems. Every retail outlet in the UK is supposed to collect a name and address for every television sale. Some now do, but loads wing it. Collating these records and sending them off probably costs more than the TV licence fee )we still have one) collects.

Great idea, but it will never fly.

Not to go off-topic, but I really don’t understand how viewers in the UK can put up with the television taxes, rules, and monopolistic broadcasting system you endure there. We wouldn’t stand for it in the US.

We’ve always lived and grown up with quite a rigid framework. The teens and twenties are very unhappy with it but in general it’s always been a part of our way as the US constitution is with you. Oddly we see some of your established ways of life as really out of touch. Most uk people will never have seen a gun in real life. We’ve banned hunting and actually many people who had gun licences got them revoked. The tv licence is however crazy. It is paid to the BBC who have a public duty remit in return for not being funded by commercials. So with hundreds of satellite channels everyone has to pay a tv licence even if you do not watch the Bbc. Bar the elderly and this exemption is being removed and the older people all feel this is a step too far. I guess we pretend to be similar but there are huge differences. Our health service being the main one. Totally free even for people who never pay taxes! Our US friends are amazed, yet we constantly complain about it!

To get back on topic, FRS and GMRS licensing in the US still confuses a lot of folks here, and it all comes right back to the FCC. They created this debacle in the first place, when they initially set up the services and then failed to enforce their rules or address issues with them until things got compltetely out of hand, and when they did finally consider the situation, then it took them ten years to do anything about it.

That sends mixed signals to manufacturers, dealers and consumers alike. On the one hand, there were rules to follow, but the FCC largely ignored transgressions unless they were prodded to address individual violations. When they did address them, they were very heavy handed with the fines, but, they seemed to pick and choose their enforcement activity, rather than enforcing the rules fairly across the board.

That sort of artbitrary behaviour by the FCC didn’t build respect for the rules, it only served to cultivate disrespect by the public at large, simply because it proved that users who violated them were likely to get away with breaking them with few repercussions. After all, if the FCC wasn’t serious about enforcing their own rules, why should the public care about following them?

So, in 2017 the FCC was forced to overhaul the rules for FRS and GMRS, not so much to bring them “up to date” (which was the public-facing reason given to save face) , but to try to bring the problem somewhat under control. The truth is, it wasn’t as much an overhaul of the Part 95 rules as it was a workaround to make the rules fit the situation of dealing with the millions of hybrid FRS/GMRS radios already out on the market and in active use by consumers everywhere. They had to change the rules because the situation got so out of hand that it was impossible to control or ban hybrid radios or their use at that point.

In spite of the rhetoric, it wasn’t about modernizing the rules, it was an act of desperation to regain some sense of authority or control over them. And they could have prevented this in the first place if they had only been paying attention and enforced the original Part 95 rules from the get go.

What made the FRS/GMRS situation particularly ludicrous is that this is very similar what happened with the Citizen’s Band or what is now officially called the CB band back in the 1970’s, and the FCC handled it in much the same way, that is, very poorly. In other words, they didn’t learn from that incident. They made the same mistake again.

So, while manufacturers, dealers and end users do have some accountability for following the rules, The FCC is the agency ultimately responsible for the creation, interpretation and enforcement of the rules, and they aren’t doing the job. You can’t make up rules, enforce them on a whim, and then expect everyone to abide by them. If the public doesn’t know or understand them to even follow them correctly to begin with, you can’t enforce them at all, and the rules mean nothing.

It’s not the dealer’s responsibility to enforce rules they didn’t create and have no power to control. This responsibility falls on the FCC, and they need to take ownership of it.