ARRL has published minutes stating that they have recused director Ria Jairam N2RJ from certain discussions. Ria discussed the issue with me, and this is my understanding:
Ria wrote a book on how to pass the Technian class Amateur Radio license exam. ARRL’s Ethics and Elections Committee gave their approval for Ria to publish the book, and that committee later rescinded that approval under the influence of ARRL CEO David Minster and President Rick Roderick. ARRL admits all of this in their own report. Thus it seems Ria acted innocently and ARRL changed their mind1. The total revenue for the book to Ria was around USD$10K. The publisher makes the rest. $10K is what lawyers would call de minimus, a small issue that should not raise weighty legal issues like a conflict of interest that would recuse a director from discussions, seemingly forever. No date for an end to the recusal was suggested in the minutes, although we know that book sales diminish sharply after first publication, and this sort of book only has a lifetime as long as the current Technican question pool.
Other ARRL directors have written books sold by publishers other than ARRL, like this one on propagation by Central Divison Director Carl Luetzelschwab, K9LA, which is sold by CQ Publications. Mr. Luetzelschwab has not been recused, according to an ARRL director, becuase his book was not directly competitive with an ARRL product, although ARRL discusses propagation in many of its publications.
Ultimately Ria’s book is probably a First Amendment matter. State and federal law, and the bylaws of organizations like ARRL, are broadly preempted by the right to free speech, including book publishing.
The minutes published by ARRL are potentially defamatory to Ria in that they don’t mention the prior approval or how small an issue the book really was. They would be prejudicial to any future director election, and appear to be designed to be that way.
The issue sounds a lot like the ARRL Transparency vs. Confidentiality fiasco of 2019, in which director Richard Norton N6AA was “sanctioned” for supposedly violating confidentiality rules of the ARRL board. Eventually three new ARRL directors, including Ria, were elected by a membership angry about the lack of transparency in ARRL governance. The new board withdrew the “sanction” as nearly its first act.
It’s 2023 and I can’t say that ARRL seems to have learned anything from the transparency fiasco. Ria is the director I would say is most representative of who we want to preserve Amateur Radio through future generations. She’s younger than the rest of the board, she’s the one director providing any ethnic diversity whatsoever to ARRL leadership, and one of only two women. In an organization that should be focused on bringing in younger members, of both genders equallly, and of all races, Ria represents the goal.
Like Richard Norton’s sanction before her, the issue seems to be not one of misconduct of the director but one of political manipulation.
ARRL has a number of internal conflicts that are shown here. As the administrative steward of IARU, they are responsible for the preservation of Amateur Radio worldwide, not just in the US. That is their main responsibility. But ARRL has historically been a magazine and book publisher, and that continues to be a major, or the main, source of revenue for their operations. Thus, we see issues like a director being recused for publication of a book for new hams, while such books are definitely in the interest of Radio Amateurs and the preservation of Amateur Radio. What is good for ham radio, however, isn’t good for ARRL, because ARRL didn’t publish the book, and perhaps someone will buy that book instead of one from ARRL.
There is an obvious solution for this, and it’s not to recuse Ria. ARRL’s publications and other product sales into the Amateur Radio market constitute a continuing conflict of interest for ARRL itself. Decisions by the board on behalf of all Amateurs, for the benefit of Amateur Radio as a whole, should not be contaminated by the interest of ARRL’s publication wing. Other organizations deal with this by decoupling the leadership of the organization from the operation of its revenue producing businesses. ARRL should continue to own its publication division, but the management of that division should be independent of ARRL’s board, and the board’s involvement should be limited to financial statements and the choice of executives to run the publication division, rather than discussions so deep and frequent that a board member who publishes a single book must be recused. The board should allow the publication division to compete on its own, without favoring its own publications over others in the Amateur Radio market.
But ARRL is moving in the opposite direction. The problem is that they are very afraid about their own survival, as the funds from publishing diminish and dues from their only 158,000 members are far from enough to support the organization as it exists today. As we saw in 2019, there is a strong push to operate “more like a business”, with a corporate board for which secrecy is paramount and which ultimately runs privately, rather than being a representative organization of Radio Amateurs. Somehow this “more like a business” is supposed to fix the more fundamental issues, like the fact that free information on the web has diminished the desire to purchase paper books, and that 80% of Licensed Radio Amateurs in the United States decline to join ARRL because some are inactive and the rest don’t trust the organization to do much for them.
The election of new directors ultimately was not enough to get ARRL off of the confidentiallity track, and more pressure from membership is necessary for ARRL to be a transparent, representative organization that operates exclusively in the interest of Radio Amateurs rather than to the benefit of its own publishing arm.
Tell your ARRL director that you support Ria. Here’s their contact information.
There is another thing that Radio Amateurs can do: ARRL holds no monopoly on Amateur policy. I worked with many other Amateurs to drive the ending of Morse code testing, while ARRL opposed it for as long as they could. IARU ultimately voted for an end to code testing, and then ITU made the decision, which freed national regulators like FCC to end code testing. ARRL was not a significant participant in the largest policy change in Amateur Radio in recent memory. We did that for ourselves.
Most hams are happy to leave all of these regulatory issues to ARRL to handle, out of their sight. But participation in Amateur policy is accessible to everyone who takes an interest, and the regulators do listen to us, as they did about the end of code testing. You don’t have to be a lawyer, and most business is conducted via email and the ocassional video conference. The participation of a broad constituency of Radio Amateurs directly in regulation will both support ARRL’s efforts and make it less of a disaster if the organization fails to survive as a paper publisher.
- ARRL’s board minutes regarding the recusal.
- ARRL’s first report on this issue.
- ARRL’s revised version of the report.
About the Author: Bruce Perens K6BP is one of the founders of the Open Source Movement in Software, and founder of No-Code International which successfully lobbied for the end of Morse code testing worldwide. He develops and evangelizes Open Source software which all hams can use for free. He has pushed the move to open CODECs and protocols, which resulted in the creation of Codec2, FreeDV, and ultimately M17. He was series editor of the Bruce Perens Open Source Series of 24 technical books with Prentice Hall PTR publishers, which was fun to do but wasn’t any way to make a living. Bruce is currently a Platinum member of ARRL’s Diamond Club, reflecting his strong past financial support for ARRL.
1: ARRL also complains that Ria’s book is similar to ARRL publications. The Ethics and Elections board did not find plagiarism, and any book for passing a test based on a question pool, like that for the Technician license, is bound to be similar to all others. It’s important to note that the question pool can not be copyrighted, due to 17 USC 102(b): in no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work. Thus, all books on passing the Technican exam are protected from claims that they “infringe” the quesstion pool itself.