Grantmaking Categories, Requirements & Goals (2021)

ARDC’s roots are in amateur radio and the technology of internet communication. We remain deeply committed to the further improvement and advancement of both. In addition, these roots have grown from the deeper soils of wireless communication, digital communication, open access to technical information, and a long practice and tradition of individual technical experimentation that has often led to broad advances for the benefit of the general public. Our grantmaking goals follow in the footsteps in this philosophy, and fall into three main categories:

Additionally, we look for grants that further the following aspirational goals:

  • Broad reach,
  • Social over commercial benefit,
  • Inclusion of underrepresented groups,
  • Empowerment of individuals, and distribution over centralization,
  • Preservation of the right to innovate, and
  • Innovation on business models.

Last but not least, ARDC requires that whatever is produced from their grants – be it hardware, software, a report, or something else – be made freely available to the public.

Keep reading to get more specifics about each of these goals, requirements, and categories.

Grantmaking Categories

Support and Growth of Amateur Radio

“Since I was young, my life and interests have been influenced by technical work in amateur radio, amateur satellites, and communications theory and engineering. The support for and leadership of technical work in amateur radio and beyond is a reason I want to help ARDC in any capacity so others can benefit as I did.” – Bob McGwier – N4HY, ARDC Board Member

The demographics of amateur radio operators have been deeply affected by the commercial communications revolution; young people no longer need a ham license to make mobile audio and video calls with their friends. In order to reverse this trend and support the growth of amateur radio, send us proposals that:

  • Teach amateur radio to new generations, particularly broadening the excitement and understanding of amateur radio among non-male, non-white, and young people;
  • Show new generations what they CAN do with amateur radio that they CAN’T do with a mobile phone — like talk with an astronaut in space or pass information despite natural disasters;
  • Expand and improve global amateur radio infrastructure, including supporting amateur radio emergency services, and satellite and other space-based amateur radio projects;
  • Develop and improve upon the AMPRnet, also known as 44net; and/or
  • Advocate (not lobby!) for preserving the amateur radio spectrum and reducing regulatory barriers to amateur operations.


“As a kid I thought radio communications over interplanetary distances was magic. I kinda still do.” – Phil Karn – KA9Q, ARDC President

Amateur Radio has been a gateway for many people into the world of communication science. For some, it has led to fulfilling and lucrative careers in science, technology, and engineering. Following our goal of both getting more people involved in amateur radio and also broadening its demographics, ARDC supports projects that enable such education, particularly projects that lower the barrier for entry into what is, for some, difficult subject matter. How can we intrigue and inform new generations about how the electromagnetic spectrum ACTUALLY works? What will let kids peer behind the “magic” of mobile phones, WiFi, television, and radio-control toys to really know what is involved? Who will invent the radio breakthroughs of 2075 in a time when most electronic engineers focus on understanding digital rather than analog electronics?

In pursuit of answers to these questions, we seek educational projects that:

  • Create easy-to-understand and accessible educational materials about amateur radio, digital communication, or communications science;
  • Provide hands-on opportunities for learning these technologies, inside of the classroom and out; and/or
  • Educate legislators, regulators, and the public about these technologies and their implications.

Additionally, ARDC funds scholarships that may be made available through amateur radio organizations like Foundation for Amateur Radio (FAR), ARRL Foundation, and Yasme Foundation.

Technical Innovation

John Perry Barlow suggested that people who specialize in something deeply technical like radio system architecture should also behave like social philosophers, thinking about the social impact of their projects and adjusting them for improved social benefit. We agree. Technical innovation in communications has also produced vast social good, from broad access to culture, to “always-on” personal communication, to saving lives with timely medical information and collaboration.

In support of promoting technical innovation, particularly for social benefit, we focus our grantmaking in the following areas:

  • Amateur Radio Technology & Experimentation,
  • Internet Technologies,
  • Digital Communications, and
  • Communication Science & Technology

Amateur Radio Technology and Experimentation

Small numbers of motivated hams have always led the world in exploring and using new frequency bands, new modulation techniques, new circuit and antenna designs, new networking methods, and new achievements in portability and disaster resilience. We aim to help these innovative hams by funding projects that:

  • Reduce barriers to innovation, including financial, regulatory or organizational ones.
  • Invent new technologies! Why don’t our pocket phones do video calls, texts and voice over ham frequencies, even when the mobile network and the Internet are down or censored? Did we forget to invent or integrate something?
  • Open up proprietary amateur radio technologies for use and improvement by all hams and by the general public, through purchase, negotiation, releasing, re-licensing, and/or reverse-engineering.

Internet Technologies

When Net44 was allocated to connect ham radio to the Internet in the 1980s, the Internet was an experiment. Since then, it escaped the lab, went commercial, and lost many of its innovative roots. Meanwhile, there’s nothing actually stopping us from continuing to experiment. Bring us proposals that:

  • Build new protocols, new experiments, and new capabilities, that expand the possibilities beyond the dominant model of centralized websites funded by surveillance. Why do most people need Google to host a video or to manage a calendar? Now that the Internet is mobile, why aren’t there protocols to let people see and choose among all available transportation services, from transit to ride-sharing to car rental to bikes and scooters? Why does every “messaging” app only let you talk to other users of that particular messaging app, unlike a ham radio or a telephone that lets you talk to anybody, regardless of who they bought their radio or phone from?
  • Design hardware, software, networks and protocols to better prevent middle nodes from blocking broad communication, neither deterred by natural disaster, political interference, military jamming, nor ordinary equipment failure.
  • Scale up mesh routing and other automated routing to be practical for large networks and naive users.
  • Communally crowdsource, own, and maintain extensive and broadly useful information, like Wikipedia or OpenStreetMap.

The above doesn’t cover everything that falls into this category; how can you define something that has not yet been invented? What’s important to understand is that for ARDC, “Internet Technologies” is not about simply replicating or expanding the existing Internet – it’s about stretching it in new ways. It’s not about adding more routers, more fibers, more towers, or more servers; it’s about inventing new kinds of services.

Digital Communications

The Internet isn’t the last word in digital communications. A lot happens in the spectrum that never touches the Internet. What capabilities is the world still lacking in digital communications? Some areas of interest for ARDC include projects that:

  • Design communication for the Internet of Moving Things. How can moving (possibly self-driving) cars and airplanes best communicate with each other and with local ground-based nodes, directly, without depending on fallible infrastructure, and with low enough latency to avoid crashes?
  • Modulate optical frequencies to communicate in a building or across a street. Or use infrared to communicate with devices under our skin, or build monitoring tools for detecting and examining optical modulation that happens around us. Are our LED light bulbs quietly talking to each other?
  • Improve existing open source digital communications technologies such as GNU Radio and other DSP technologies.

Communication Science and Technology

Not all communication is digital! What inventions and improvements can we make in the analog technologies of communications? Here are some ideas and areas of interest:

  • Nanotechnology and semiconductor fabrication for communication lets us build physical structures sized to arbitrary wavelengths, even near visible light.
  • Modulation and coding theory and practice continue to evolve and deliver substantial SNR improvements.
  • Multiple transmissions per frequency without interference. Harness David Reed’s speculations about interference not being inherent in the electromagnetic spectrum, evolving transmitter, receiver, and antenna designs.
  • Ultra-wideband signaling and location services: small, cheap, and interference-resistant communication that happens way below the noise level.

Important Components of ARDC Grants

Required Component: Open Access

ARDC works with and for the public.  When we fund new work in any of the above areas, we require it to be able to freely spread without limit, to everyone who can benefit and to everyone who can contribute. Thus all technology, documentation, and other materials produced using ARDC funds must be made freely available to the public.

For software, we highly encourage releasing it under an Open Source Initiative (OSI)-approved license.

For documents, audio, and video, we recommend releasing them under the Free Culture subset of the Creative Commons licenses, including CC-BY, CC-BY-SA, or CC0.

Aspirational Goals

Broad reach. Our best grants will benefit the widest community possible. We want to see that your grant will not only benefit your organization or community, but may also be cheaply replicated more broadly throughout society.

Social over commercial benefit. As a private foundation, we hold an important role in the fabric of our economy: providing funds to projects that benefit society but may not have a viable business model or require an alternative organizational structure. We prioritize giving to such organizations and projects over commercially-driven ones.

Inclusion of underrepresented groups. Both amateur radio and digital communications technology have been historically male-dominated fields. In the United States and other western countries, the majority of those males are white. ARDC aims to make grants that broaden the demographics of these arenas and is keenly interested in grant proposals that do so.

Empowerment of individuals, and distribution rather than centralization. Innovation by individuals and a community mindset are both at the heart of amateur radio. They are also core to our mission at ARDC. We prioritize projects that empower individuals and small organizations. ARDC-funded projects enable and encourage public distribution – rather than centralization – of tools, knowledge, and access.

Preservation of the right to innovate, despite oligopolies and corrupt governments that restrict innovation to protect the status quo, feed advantages to their cronies, or keep the current winners in privileged positions.

Innovation on business models, like crowdfunding of non-rivalrous distribution (Wikipedia), or free software service business models that enable broad public access to things that are expensive to produce.

If you have a project you think fits into the above goals, check to see if you are currently eligible and, if so, please send us a proposal.

If you have questions about any of these goals, reach out to us at: Your thoughts and feedback are welcome any time for this living, breathing document.