Wednesday, May 26, 2010
LoTW, VUCC & The lack of Leadership
A recent thread on the VHF E-Mail Reflector about when (if ever) the American Radio Relay League plans to implement VUCC credits using their electronic QSL software called "Logbook of the World".
LoTW, for short, has been around for almost a decade now, but still doesn't accept contacts made above 50mhz towards credit for the VHF UHF Century Club (VUCC) Award. So, even if you have 200 grids confirmed on 2 Meters using the software, you can't print out that list and have it accepted by the ARRL towards credit for the award.
Many in the VHF community feel slighted by the delays and excuses coming from Newington. Making matters worse is the growth of alternative electronic QSL programs such as "E-QSL" which is accepted by CQ Magazine for their awards program, and more recently, the QRZ.com electronic awards program.
The LoTW software uses a high level of security, including the use of special encryption keys, and others steps to protect the data to the highest standards. So high in fact, that they exceed the level of security used for my on-line banking account, my brokerage account, and even my daughter's FASA college grant account!
These security steps have made the software difficult to install and use, a real pain to transfer to a new computer, and generally slow to be adopted by hams. In contrast, the E-QSL program is fast, easy, and wildly popular. I expect the QRZ.com program to take off too.
The problem lies when trying to keep up with all of it. Now each QSL has to be confirmed a minimum of three ways to keep everyone happy. That means uploading your logs, and sending out cards. Since the ARRL won't accept E-QSL's or QRZ.com cards, you have to still do them manually via US Mail.
VUCC cost me $270 in postage, return postage, envelopes, etc. A hefty price just to confirm 100 contacts. In contrast, you could easily qualify for DXCC, especially if you're active on RTTY or the digital modes, for no investment at all. Most hams active on the digital modes tend to be early adopters of LoTW, and logs are often uploaded within hours of the end of a major RTTY or PSK DX contest.
The rise of alternative programs is completely understandable. The league missed it's opportunity to lead in the area of electronic-QSL's and have failed again and again to update the software, add programs like VUCC, and improve the interface.
The real shame is that in doing so, they reduce their own "market share" with a new generation of hams. Currently, DXCC Honor Roll, VUCC, and other ARRL Awards are the most highly prized, but that doesn't mean it will always be that way. They could quickly become antiques as other award programs grow and are adopted by the next generation.
What's that old saying, "Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way"? When it comes to VHF+ matters, the league continues to allow it's priorities to be set by those who experience is grounded in the HF world. You see in their contesting rules, the lack of support for VUCC on LoTW, and even in their monthly magazine, QST, which often includes editorial slants painting VHF Men as second rate operators compared to their HF brothers.
It's time to wake up, Newington...adopting VUCC as part of LoTW should be "JOB ONE" until completed. I hope others will join me in making their feelings known to their Section Managers, and elected officials.