I don't understand the use of the Internet in conjunction with Amateur Radio. Echolink, Winlink 2000, and IRLP all setup a false sense of security for users. Creating a dependency on something you cannot control means that resource won't be there when you need it. Most recently the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) has been advocating the use of Winlink 2000 for emergency use without much forethought, in my opinion. This really isn't much surprise since they've started doing away with bulletins that could easily be made available over digital amateur radio networks in favor of shiny, flashy, and pretty text that are best viewed using a broadband Internet connection.
- If I have Internet access why do I need amateur radio? It's actually a really good question. The ARRL likes to think that ARES members march into a disaster-affected area or into emergency operations centers and setup shop to save the day when traditional communication systems fail. But if these ARES members only know how to use Internet-based communication systems then they very well might fail as well. There is a lot of talk of using Winlink 2000 for ARES because email is easiest for our "customers" to handle at the distant end. Okay, I'm good with that except if the customer doesn't have Internet access then you are sending messages that won't be delivered in a timely manner (maybe not until days or weeks after the disaster). But if their Internet access is working then why do I need amateur radio operators? Simply put, I don't. During Hurricane Irene, the EOC I was stationed at never lost communications with the world or the local shelter. Had they, we were prepared to handle traffic to the state EOC digitally through the Virginia Digital Emergency Network (VDEN) which does not rely on any Internet connectivity.
- If I train to use the Internet I won't train to use anything else. It's a sad fact but when people rely on a technology they deem to be superior because it's fast or easy you then they end up failing to maintain skills that would allow them a means of communicating around a failure. The same goes for the equipment being used. Think that local Echolink repeater link is going to be available during an emergency? What if it's not? If you practice and use that path to communicate with, say, the National Hurricane Center will you be able to do so over HF when your Echolink no longer functions? Do you even remember the frequency they monitor (14.325MHz)? Does your equipment even work?
- Why would I want to use the Internet to communicate to other Amateurs? Good question. I received a license from the FCC stating I have access to all kinds of frequencies in which to exploit using all kinds of modes of communication. Why would I want to connect an Internet link to the system? Heck, if I did that I might as well turn the radios off and use the fiber connection I have plugged into my house for all my global communications. Funny, though, that back in 2003 the SouthEastern Repeater Association (SERA) met and agreed that two hams communicating over the Internet with no RF was still "ham radio". In an emergency this would fall squarely into #1 on this list. The ARRL's National Traffic System (NTS) currently handles messages going between hams, between hams and non-hams, and even between non-hams and non-hams using amateur radio without Internet links. They do this using voice, CW, RTTY, and a 24/7/365 digital network, the NTSD, that links up the entire country. If deployed properly, the NTSD could bring doorstep-to-doorstep communications between hams anywhere in the country (US and Canada) without much delay.
- Degradation of skills. I know of some very smart hams that build and maintain digital networks. These are smart individuals and they maintain their equipment much as they do their minds by testing different scenarios, working through routing problems, and figuring out how to provide connectivity to different geographic areas when none exists. Then I know of people who are just smart enough to connect a radio, TNC, and computer together, get the Winlink 2000 software going, and think that the VHF or UHF link they have just created to the Internet is how they are going to communicate with the state EOC a hundred or so miles away. If the Internet fails at either location or somewhere in between they won't know how to quickly work around the problem because they don't have the skills or the equipment to do so.
With so many modes and bands in which to operate why do so many hams seem to revolve around the Internet? Why has our ambassador, the ARRL, spent more time getting information into a pretty format rather than supporting the means of moving information around via ham radio? I dare say there isn't anything that can be done on the Internet that can't be done on Amateur Radio with respect to communications.