From the ARRL website:
NEWINGTON, CT, Dec 15, 2006 -- In an historic move, the FCC has acted to drop the Morse code requirement for all Amateur Radio license classes. The Commission today adopted, but hasn't yet released, the long-awaited Report and Order (R&O) in WT Docket 05-235, the "Morse code" proceeding. Also today, the FCC adopted an Order on Reconsideration in WT Docket 04-140 -- the "omnibus" proceeding -- modifying the Amateur Radio rules in response to an ARRL request to accommodate automatically controlled narrowband digital stations on 80 meters in the wake of rule changes that became effective today at 12:01 AM Eastern Time. The Commission said it will designate the 3585 to 3600 kHz frequency segment for such operations, although the segment will remain available for CW, RTTY and data as it has been. In a break from what's been the usual practice in Amateur Radio proceedings, the FCC only issued a public notice at or about the close of business today and not the actual Report & Order, so some details -- including the effective dates of the two orders -- remain uncertain. Currently, Amateur Radio applicants for General and higher class licenses have to pass a 5 WPM Morse code test to operate on HF. Today's R&O will eliminate that requirement all around.
"This change eliminates an unnecessary regulatory burden that may discourage current Amateur Radio operators from advancing their skills and participating more fully in the benefits of Amateur Radio," the FCC said. The ARRL had asked the FCC to retain the 5 WPM for Amateur Extra class applicants only. The FCC proposed earlier to drop the requirement across the board, however, and it held to that decision in today's R&O.
Perhaps more important, the FCC's action in WT Docket 05-235 appears to put all Technician licensees on an equal footing: Once the R&O goes into effect, holders of Technician class licenses will have equivalent HF privileges, whether or not they've passed the 5 WPM Element 1 Morse examination. The FCC said the R&O in the Morse code docket would eliminate a disparity in the operating privileges for the Technician and Technician Plus class licensees -- something the ARRL also has asked the Commission to correct following the release of its July 2005 Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) in WT Docket 05-235.
"With today's elimination of the Morse code exam requirements, the FCC concluded that the disparity between the operating privileges of Technician class licensees and Technician Plus class licensees should not be retained," the FCC said in its public notice. "Therefore, the FCC, in today's action, afforded Technician and Technician Plus licensees identical operating privileges."
Technician licensees without Element 1 credit (ie, Tech Plus licensees) currently have operating privileges on all amateur frequencies above 30 MHz. Tech Pluses or Technicians with Element 1 credit have limited HF privileges on 80, 40, 15 and 10 meters. Under the Part 97 rules the Commission proposed last year in its NPRM in WT Docket 05-235, current Technicians lacking Morse credit after the new rules went into effect would have had to upgrade to General to earn any HF privileges.
The wholesale elimination of a Morse code requirement for all license classes ends a longstanding national and international regulatory tradition in the requirements to gain access to Amateur Radio frequencies below 30 MHz. The first no-code license in the US was the Technician ticket, instituted in 1991. The question of whether or not to drop the Morse requirement altogether has been the subject of often-heated debate over the past several years, but the handwriting has been on the wall -- especially since the FCC instituted an across-the-board 5 WPM Morse requirement effective April 15, 2000, in the most-recent major Amateur Radio licensing restructuring (WT Docket 98-143).
The FCC said today's R&O in WT Docket 05-235 comports with revisions to the international Radio Regulations resulting from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) World Radiocommunication Conference 2003 (WRC-03). At that gathering, delegates agreed to authorize each country to determine whether or not to require that applicants demonstrate Morse code proficiency in order to qualify for an Amateur Radio license with privileges on frequencies below 30 MHz.
The list of countries dropping the Morse requirement has been growing steadily since WRC-03. A number of countries, including Canada, the UK and several European nations, now no longer require applicants for an Amateur Radio license to pass a Morse code test to gain HF operating privileges. Following WRC-03, the FCC received several petitions for rule making asking it to eliminate the Morse requirement in the US.
Typically, the effective date of an FCC Order is 30 days after it appears in the Federal Register. If that's the case, the Morse requirement and the revised 80-meter segment for automatically controlled digital stations would likely not go into effect until late January or early February 2007. That's not clear from the public notice, however. The FCC can order its decision effective upon release.
The ARRL will provide any additional information on these important Part 97 rule revisions as it becomes available.