Ham radio operators face a tough test for relicensing

Radio amateurs and those who would like to pursue the hobby have until Friday to apply to take a written and practical test to obtain a license.

Because there is a new radio law, amateurs, even if they have had a license for years, have to reapply. Many are unhappy about this.

The test is said to be challenging.  Radio licenses are under the telecom section of the Ministerio de Telecomunicaciones.

In the United States, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission delegates to certain amateur license holders the responsibility of administering and correcting license tests. Not so in Costa Rica. There is one test July 17 with a second session Aug. 16. The law calls for a test in October, too, but a date has not been set.

On the same dates tests also are given for those who wish to communicate on the 20 citizen bands. CD is one type of license. Then there are novice, intermediate and advanced licenses for amateur radio hobbyists. Higher license types allow the holder to use more of the radio spectrum and more power.

The Radio Club of Costa Rica is holding classes to help those who have to take the new test.

Some expats are unhappy because there is no provision for a licensed U.S. amateur here to obtain a Costa Rica license with a Costa Rican call sign. Instead, they have to use their U.S. or Canadian call sign after applying for reciprocal treatment. Or they can take the test and become licensed as a novice, the only category open to a newcomer.

The ministry has put out some documents on the Web, including a 127-page manual that is full of radio theory. Although some of this material will appear on the various tests for licenses, it is unclear just how complex the test will be. The material seems to be much more detailed than even information needed to pass a U.S. extra class license, the top level. However, there is no requirement to understand morse code.

Costa Rican law requires an amateur to keep a formal record of all the radio contacts. The book has to be approved by the ministry, which will apply a seal. Those who wish to use a ham radio from a vehicle have to provide information about the vehicle to the ministry. The ministry is empowered to set an annual fee for ham radio operators as they do for commercial broadcasters.

The licensing regime is an effort to put some order on what has become a chaotic situation. Amateur operators have been transmitting without a license since the radio law passed. But they are a small part of the problem.

There are at least a hundred pirate broadcasting stations in Costa Rica. Many produce interference for legal broadcasters.

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