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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 areas.
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.
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