Background

As the owner\operator of a radio receiving and transmitting station, I use it to facilitate training and leisure activity. I belong to a global community of millions of people, who educate themselves and others to use radio for work or leisure. The topic is rich in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. See here. Its fair to say that by following the self training approach that amateur radio offered, my career was enriched and I was able to sustain a successful career in government information technology and telecommunications. Life could have been very different without taking this path. Now I am retired, I use radio to keep in touch with like minded people and support others in the community around me to do the same. In this way I am supporting more than one community in a number of ways and making a difference.

I was recently asked to say what harm does it do, if my radio station is put out of action. While its easy to cope with a lightning strike or some fault in the equipment, its not so easy when it is closed down by the thoughtless indiscriminate behaviour of people. This led me to study the benefits people get from a hobby and why its important to stand up to threats to our livelihood.

Purpose of the Review

The reason for the question was to prove a business benefits case for retaining and upgrading the services that government regulators provide. 

What do regulators do and why are they needed?

As a part of government you would think a regulator would act as a steward towards our shared natural resources. Partly their job is in preventing corporate greed and monopolisation, at the expense of consumers, tradespeople and the other suppliers in the industry, promoting fair and equitable use of resources. But that seems to be a rose tinted view.

Recently OFCOM, the telecommunications industry regulator, has varied that view for us by showing its willingness to sacrifice our livelihoods and leisure activities, in favour of tech giants delivering electronic commerce and entertainment – the internet, for profits worth billions.

There is no doubt that stewardship is badly needed. The internet also delivers harmful by-products; trolling, pornography and gambling and is a platform for scammers, who take £5 billion per annum from ordinary peoples bank accounts. (Source: BBC). The cause of death, mental ill health, misery, ruin and debt.

Back in the radio world, recently OFCOM who provide interference services to radio users in the public, have scaled back their effort due to austerity measures. They now won’t respond if you need help unless there is a “threat of harm”.

By deregulating it opens the way for industry to deliver products that wipe out radio signals – made on the cheap.

The real question now is – What can be done, to stop an industry from trashing our environment for profit, if the regulator(s) we pay, no longer performs its duty?

Anti-Social Behaviour,  Bad Habits and Lessons Learnt in History.  

Industries have a long history of trashing the environment for profit.  It’s how humans have taken species after species to extinction according to Extinction Rebellion. If there’s anything to learn, its the same type of behaviour that has brought the world to the brink of an abyss, which is now threatening our natural resources. , Behaviour which people are crying out to change.

It doesn’t have to be that way…

The loss the radio world faces, as interference from cheap, badly made and unregulated products takes over, can be avoided by more care in manufacture and installation. 

It beggars belief therefore that telecommunications giant BTOpenreach is indulging in the same old behaviour, which is characterised by denial, deception, blaming others, and sitting on its hands, just to pinch a few pounds out of consumers. More incredible is that the regulator OFCOM supports this unsustainable approach See here. 

Business Case for Change

Realising that harm means damage, I classified the areas where harm occurs  for us, and summarised the damage.  The Environment, our Economy, Wellbeing and Heritage, are affected. Then I thought about the reputations of Industry and Politicians.

Economic Damage – leisure Investment.

To calculate the economic damage, I realised a formula that proves the business case for change would be based on the factors below.

Cost of Equipment.  The equipment or devices we use are classed as significant purchases, often costing over a month’s wages for the average person.  These are sensitive instruments, retailing between eight and fifteen hundred pounds sterling.  (They become useless when normally audible signals are drowned out by electrical noise from sources of interference.  Something the military call Jamming.)

Leisure Investment.  Because it gives me pleasure, (more later) I own a number of radio receivers, all of which fail to work for at least four days a week because of local sources of interference.  As a friend said:  “I have just restored a WW2 naval ships radio receiver, and complemented it with a matching transmitter.   It took several days of work and weeks to source the spares, the challenges kept me busy and I enjoyed bringing it up to specification.  This contributes to sustainability, but however in use, the receiver is so badly swamped with interference from BT Openreach’s Broadband network that it doesn’t work on the (OFCOM) assigned licensed frequency.  Here a national network of like minded people are trying to keep the heritage of the telecommunications industry alive by demonstrating in sound, what it was like to operate vintage military radio sets, from various periods in history.  “We all seem to have the same problem” he said.  “We just can’t hear each other without taking additional measures”. 

Another friend said, “Having made further investment of £300 in an attempt to remove the noise from the audio, as others have, I am now facing another cost of £1000 to install another antenna and device to remove the interfering signal before it reaches the radio”.  (Cost courtesy of DX Engineering).

The fact is my home was purchased in order to support my housing needs and within its boundaries are specialised receiving and transmitting aerials which took time, (several years), money, Circa £2500 and some bureaucratic effort, to develop. In my mind, this investment is also wasted and I am not looking forward to the cost of picking up and starting again elsewhere.  To get any sort of performance now requires me to operate away from home or remotely.  Spending on vehicles and transport are increased, together with my carbon footprint (fuel costs).  This isn’t sustainable.  Half my equipment could be considered junk, when you consider the resources and effort taken and the carbon used in manufacturing and shipping it. 

Economic damage – UK Economy

The money I invest in leisure, goes to a few international manufacturers via a network of specialised equipment dealers in UK.  They supply an economy, with more than 100,000 amateur customers. (There are many more professional users involved.) 

Each year, the manufacturers bring out new models, but now, I am more sceptical as a consumer.  No matter how good a new radio is, or its appeal, buying today might simply be a waste, if I can’t detect, identify, locate and silence sources of interference that pop up around it – like OFCOM used to do.

Many of us think that our hobby is about to be closed down.

Given the numbers of complaints to the Radio Society of Great Britain (in the RSGB VDSL Survey and its Journal RADCOM), the impact of interference is thought to be having a depressing effect on this market.

Damage to Wellbeing

Economics of Wellbeing.  The economic benefit of pleasure derived, from leisure is not to be underestimated – the global leisure industry is worth billions.

The whole industry works by stimulating the brain to generate the satisfaction hormones, endorphins, dopamine and serotonin, that make people feel good. 

We live in a society where people have a 25% chance of becoming mentally ill – according to the government’s Chief Medical Adviser.  He says that  one way of avoiding such illness is in practicing a hobby.  (We agree, in our experience, setting goals and achieving them through challenging projects works for us and there are many examples of it). 

With a little more research, it further transpires that the tablets prescribed by GP’s for depression can only deliver a miniscule dose compared to the boost your hormone levels gets from participating in a leisure activity.

No coincidence then that leisure activities and the well being of people are promoted by various government ministers, in their departments visionary statements – as the future.  The economy of well being is a strategic plan to deliver less services by keeping people out of the health economy, saving police time, keeping people occupied and out of prison or hospital –  worth billions. (OFCOM’s behaviour therefore seems at odds with such policy.)

Personal Wellbeing

Cultural Factors.  The hobby I chose has a net contribution to the economy.  It is structured culturally so that I can gain an additional boost by coaching others and contributing to their well being.

Naturally any threat to my rights to choose what I do for pleasure, not only becomes a threat to my leisure investment, but it is also a wellbeing matter.  To feel valued and motivated I get my stimulation from developing a radio station and a network of people with whom I can talk and listen to.  It’s performance and usability add to the satisfaction I need to sustain my mental health. 

Talking and Listening are great skills to have according to Mind, the mental health charity.

So What Harm does Interference Do?

I do not enjoy the idea of re-investing in new activities because there is less money to invest.  Less time is available for re-skilling.  I am less able to change due to the effects of age.  The chances are that I could lose the things that I have lived for, which have become my livelihood.  Being in such a position would lead to severe emotional distress

Can’t you just use Skype?  Where’s the skill in that?  The internet is no substitute for developing and using a skill set when it comes to mental health. It doesn’t figure much on the official list of healthy activities at all.

Sources:  What Works Wellbeing,  The NHS. 

Community Well being and Social Responsibility

This is about considering others in the community, and living and letting live.  When you have invested your time and money in a leisure activity and it is curtailed by some indiscriminate, and anti-social neighbour behaviour, the impact is on emotional wellbeing.  If they get it right, toxic people can literally destroy your life.  People who are victimised by toxic neighbours and anti-social behaviour suffer from PTSD.  Social responsibility is about being good neighbours and putting back into the community. 

Damage to the Community

To illustrate good practice, In May 2019, in Stamford, Norfolk, a gang of youths, fueled by alcohol, destroyed a model railway belonging to a community model railway club, while it was on display at a nearby school.  The youths were quickly identified and arrested, and due to a media campaign the community got together to fund a restoration.  Tens of thousands of pounds had been spent and a life time of work had gone into this model Railway.  Everyone agreed the distress of the incident was devastating for the people who put a lifetime of leisure time, love, care, detail and money into the layout.  It was distressing to see. Tens of thousands of pounds were raised according to the Independent.  The re-developed layout went on display again in November 2019 according to the BBC.  The community had responded to this harmful behaviour with kindness. 

So what is the difference between having your model railway trashed by miscreants and having your radio station and networks obliterated by a corporate giant like BTOpenreach?  The answer to that is, so far Openreach has used their corporate power to get the regulator OFCOM to sit on its hands and play down the damage for them as a service,  rather like a mouthpiece.

The culprit, in this case BT Openreach, denies their equipment is at fault and the authorities, in this case the regulator (OFCOM) say they won’t investigate, accepting what BTO are saying – that their equipment doesn’t cause interference and it must be the consumers fault.  The radio community has presented the real situation to both parties. OFCOM refuses to exercise its powers. (The difference is the discretionary application of power and the hidden nature of the offence.)

Heritage

Our heritage is in the skill set and culture now useful in keeping us mentally and physically active (Source: Royal Society of Arts, Commerce and Manufactures (RSA) Heritage Network.) Using it in a particular way is our unique selling point, without which it will be impossible to attract and retain people. In my community of interest, if we all turn up at the same time every week for a chat, it tests our skills and equipment and lets us know all is well.

Damage to Our Government and Corporate Reputation

Supplying goods that interfere with peoples well-being by destroying their leisure environment is socially reckless.  Blaming others for causing interference is simply passing the buck.  Most Government departments are keen to advertise their positive impact on communities but beneath the surface won’t stand up for those communities, favouring the money over the needs of people.  This makes a mockery of politicians who are elected by people but support corporate greed and it presents politicians as two faced fakes – mocking democracy.

OFCOM say there is no harm done.  We say the radio spectrum we used to build our heritage has been severely compromised by BTOpenreach et al supported by the regulatory system. This is no longer effective for our type of communications and this is fundamentally harmful. 

What do you think?

Stuart Dixon FRSA

Acknowledgements:
Stephen Cape
RSGB

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