Name one aspect of radio broadcasting that receives the least
attention but holds the greatest potential to cause a problem. Was your
answer frequency coordination? If it wasn't, you have further proved my
point. Broadcast Auxiliary Services (BAS) coordination is handled
mostly through the Society of Broadcast Engineers (SBE) and its local
frequency coordinators. In most cases, these individuals watch the
spectrum used for studio-to-transmitter links, inter-city links, remote
pickup systems and other behind-the-scene services covered under Part
74 of the FCC Rules.
Because the FCC has long removed itself from any meaningful role in
policing the spectrum, coordination of the radio waves has been taken
care of by other groups. For most broadcast uses, the SBE has filled
this role. In other frequency bands, commercial companies and volunteer
groups have stepped up to the plate. Regardless of who handles the
duty, without coordination, there would be chaos on the airwaves.
When the FCC reviewed the methods used for Part 74 BAS frequencies,
it came to the conclusion that we as broadcasters were not following
the same procedures as those used by Part 101 users. The FCC's decision
to standardize the process has merit because it makes it easier for the
agency to ensure that 950MHz and 2.11GHz users follow the same
standards of obtaining prior coordination clearance before using the
spectrum. However, in requiring the new method, the FCC ignored the
fact that its own database is far from up-to-date and accurate.
What does all this mean? Many believe that the days of calling a
local SBE frequency coordinator and receiving a free service are over.
Some commercial groups are hungrily eyeing the BAS user base as a
new-found source of income. In the end, frequency coordination —
up to now a free service — may carry a price. Speculation ranges
on the actual cost. It's likely that there will be a modest fee
involved when the dust settles. If a fee is involved, users will
naturally ask what they will get for their money.
What's in it for you?
The FCC will provide nothing directly. A side effect is that the FCC
records may improve in accuracy because of the paid efforts. The real
benefit lies elsewhere.
In most areas, the BAS spectrum is congested, which justifies the
need for accurate and skilled coordinators. While a volunteer effort
has worked well in most areas, paying for the service should carry some
guarantee of accuracy. Depending on who finally handles the service,
there may be some efficiencies that cross into other spectrum
The SBE method of using market and regional coordinators has a
proven track record. The organization is also looking into ways of
improving its own database methods that will better track data and even
help spot potential problems.
The SBE has been a champion of frequency coordination for some time.
As the news of the pending ruling was making its rounds, the SBE made
several efforts to make its voice heard. The main issue was the
requirement for licensees to follow the prior coordination notice (PCN)
procedures that are used with Part 101 users. The FCC released its
Report and Order with an effective date of April 16, 2003. Many
broadcasters were concerned with the deadline.
True to the cause, the SBE filed a request for a temporary stay of
the effective date and secured a six-month extension. The grounds for
the extension rest in the inaccuracies of the FCC's Universal Licensing
System (ULS) database, as noted in the SBE filing. I congratulate the
SBE's FCC Liaison Committee for the beneficial outcome of its work.
Just because the deadline to begin using PCN procedures has been
delayed until Oct. 16, stations still have an obligation to verify that
their license information in the ULS is accurate. If something is
missing, add it immediately. If something is listed but is no longer
used, have it deleted. Your efforts will be rewarded in the end.
By the way, my praise of the SBE is genuine. While I am closely
involved with the SBE on the national level as chairman of the SBE's
National Certification Committee, I am not involved with frequency
coordination or FCC filing matters.
Send comments to: E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org