The Reproducible Builds project relies on several projects, supporters and sponsors for financial support, but they are also valued as ambassadors who spread the word about the project and the work that we do.
This is the third instalment in a series featuring the projects, companies and individuals who support the Reproducible Builds project. If you are a supporter of the Reproducible Builds project (of whatever size) and would like to be featured here, please let get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We started this series by featuring the Civil Infrastructure Platform project and followed this up with a post about the Ford Foundation. Today, however, we’ll be talking with Dan Romanchik, Communications Manager at Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC).
Chris Lamb: Hey Dan, it’s nice to meet you! So, for someone who has not heard of Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC) before, could you tell us what your foundation is about?
Dan: Sure! ARDC’s mission is to support, promote, and enhance experimentation, education, development, open access, and innovation in amateur radio, digital communication, and information and communication science and technology. We fulfill that mission in two ways:
We administer an allocation of IP addresses that we call 44Net. These IP addresses (in the 126.96.36.199/8 IP range) can only be used for amateur radio applications and experimentation.
We make grants to organizations whose work aligns with our mission. This includes amateur radio clubs as well as other amateur radio-related organizations and activities. Additionally, we support scholarship programs for people who either have an amateur radio license or are pursuing careers in technology, STEM education and open-source software development projects that fit our mission, such as Reproducible Builds.
Chris: How might you relate the importance of amateur radio and similar technologies to someone who is non-technical?
Dan: Amateur radio is important in a number of ways. First of all, amateur radio is a public service. In fact, the legal name for amateur radio is the Amateur Radio Service, and one of the primary reasons that amateur radio exists is to provide emergency and public service communications. All over the world, amateur radio operators are prepared to step up and provide emergency communications when disaster strikes or to provide communications for events such as marathons or bicycle tours.
Second, amateur radio is important because it helps advance the state of the art. By experimenting with different circuits and communications techniques, amateurs have made significant contributions to communications science and technology.
Third, amateur radio plays a big part in technical education. It enables students to experiment with wireless technologies and electronics in ways that aren’t possible without a license. Amateur radio has historically been a gateway for young people interested in pursuing a career in engineering or science, such as network or electrical engineering.
Fourth — and this point is a little less obvious than the first three — amateur radio is a way to enhance international goodwill and community. Radio knows no boundaries, of course, and amateurs are therefore ambassadors for their country, reaching out to all around the world.
Beyond amateur radio, ARDC also supports and promotes research and innovation in the broader field of digital communication and information and communication science and technology. Information and communication technology plays a big part in our lives, be it for business, education, or personal communications. For example, think of the impact that cell phones have had on our culture. The challenge is that much of this work is proprietary and owned by large corporations. By focusing on open source work in this area, we help open the door to innovation outside of the corporate landscape, which is important to overall technological resiliency.
Chris: Could you briefly outline the history of ARDC?
Dan: Nearly forty years ago, a group of visionary ‘hams’ saw the future possibilities of what was to become the internet and requested an address allocation from the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). That allocation included more than sixteen million IPv4 addresses, 188.8.131.52 through 184.108.40.206. These addresses have been used exclusively for amateur radio applications and experimentation with digital communications techniques ever since. In 2011, the informal group of hams administering these addresses incorporated as a nonprofit corporation, Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC). ARDC is recognized by IANA, ARIN and the other Internet Registries as the sole owner of these addresses, which are also known as AMPRNet or 44Net.
Over the years, ARDC has assigned addresses to thousands of hams on a long-term loan (essentially acting as a zero-cost lease), allowing them to experiment with digital communications technology. Using these IP addresses, hams have carried out some very interesting and worthwhile research projects and developed practical applications, including TCP/IP connectivity via radio links, digital voice, telemetry and repeater linking.
Even so, the amateur radio community never used much more than half the available addresses, and today, less than one third of the address space is assigned and in use. This is one of the reasons that ARDC, in 2019, decided to sell one quarter of the address space (or approximately 4 million IP addresses) and establish an endowment with the proceeds. This endowment now funds ARDC’s a suite of grants, including scholarships, research projects, and of course amateur radio projects. Initially, ARDC was restricted to awarding grants to organizations in the United States, but is now able to provide funds to organizations around the world.
Chris: How does the Reproducible Builds effort help ARDC achieve its goals?
Dan: Our aspirational goals include:
Broad reach. We look for projects that will benefit the widest community possible.
Social over commercial benefit. We prioritize giving to organizations and funding projects that may not have a viable business model, but provide a clear benefit to society.
Preservation of the right to innovate. We oppose any efforts that restrict innovation to protect the status quo and keep the current winners in privileged positions.
We think that the Reproducible Builds’ efforts in helping to ensure the safety and security of open source software closely align with those goals.
Chris: Are there any specific ‘success stories’ that ARDC is particularly proud of?
Dan: We are really proud of our grant to the Hoopa Valley Tribe in California. With a population of nearly 2,100, their reservation is the largest in California. Like everywhere else, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the reservation hard, and the lack of broadband internet access meant that 130 children on the reservation were unable to attend school remotely.
The ARDC grant allowed the tribe to address the immediate broadband needs in the Hoopa Valley, as well as encourage the use of amateur radio and other two-way communications on the reservation. The first nation was able to deploy a network that provides broadband access to approximately 90% of the residents in the valley. And, in addition to bringing remote education to those 130 children, the Hoopa now use the network for remote medical monitoring and consultation, adult education, and other applications.
Other successes include our grants to:
- The ARRL Foundation, which has awarded dozens of scholarships over the past couple of years to amateur radio operators both young and old.
The Chippewa Valley Amateur Club, who used the grant to build an emergency communications trailer and improve the emergency communication infrastructure in their community.
Woodridge Middle School, who have developed innovative, hands-on, radio-related projects that have dramatically increased the test scores of the kids in their STEM program.
The Make Operating Radio Easier (MORE) Project, which aims to reduce both gender and age imbalances in ham radio, through education and hands-on activities. Led by the IEEE Central Jersey Section, MORE provides mentoring, proactive intervention, and inclusivity to groups that are under-represented in amateur radio.
Chris: ARDC supports a number of other existing projects and initiatives, not all of them in the open source world. How much do you feel being a part of the broader ‘free culture’ movement helps you achieve your aims?
Dan: In general, we find it challenging that most digital communications technology is proprietary and closed-source. It’s part of our mission to fund open source alternatives. Without them, we are solely reliant, as a society, on corporate interests for our digital communication needs. It makes us vulnerable and it puts us at risk of increased surveillance. Thus, ARDC supports open source software wherever possible, and our grantees must make a commitment to share their work under an open source license or otherwise make it as freely available as possible.
Chris: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us today. Now, if someone wanted to know more about ARDC or to get involved, where might they go to look?
To learn more about ARDC in general, please visit our website at https://www.ampr.org.
To learn more about 44Net, go to https://wiki.ampr.org/wiki/Main_Page.
And, finally, to learn more about our grants program, go to https://www.ampr.org/apply/
For more about the Reproducible Builds project, please see our website at reproducible-builds.org. If you are interested in ensuring the ongoing security of the software that underpins our civilisation and wish to sponsor the Reproducible Builds project, please reach out to the project by emailing email@example.com.