Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Frequency coordination

T1A08: Which of the following entities recommends transmit/receive channels and other parameters for auxiliary and repeater stations?

  1. Frequency Spectrum Manager
  2. Frequency Coordinator
  3. FCC Regional Field Office
  4. International Telecommunications Union

The correct answer is B–Frequency Coordinator.

(Authority: 97.3(a)(22))

T1A09: Who selects a Frequency Coordinator?

  1. The FCC Office of Spectrum Management and Coordination Policy
  2. The local chapter of the Office of National Council of Independent Frequency Coordinators
  3. Amateur operators in a local or regional area whose stations are eligible to be auxiliary or repeater stations
  4. FCC Regional Field Office

The correct answer is C–Amateur operators in a local or regional area whose stations are eligible to be auxiliary or repeater stations.

(Authority: 97.3(a)(22))

These questions only briefly touch on an issue in part because going deeper into it would touch on areas on which the amateur radio community is in disagreement. The prior version of the Technician pool had two questions on this issue, and one of the questions set forth the arguably controversial position that coordination "reduce[d] interference and promote[d]  proper use of spectrum". I don't know why the NCVEC dumped those two questions in favor of these, but at least these questions are much more closely tied to the actual definitions in the regulations.

Frequency coordination, in general, is the recommendation of operating frequencies (transmit and receive parameters) and other parameters (such as antenna gain, antenna directionality, and selective squelch) to allow multiple repeater and auxiliary stations operating in the same general area to interoperate with a minimum of interference. In the business services frequency coordination by an FCC-recognized frequency coordinator is mandatory for all applicants, and applicants must generally pay a fee to the coordinator for that service. In the amateur service, coordination is strictly optional; however, the regulations give an advantage to repeater and auxiliary stations that do coordinate by essentially giving them priority over uncoordinated stations in an interference dispute, but only when the other interfering station is also a repeater or auxiliary station.

In principle coordination, when properly done, should reduce interference and encourage better utilization of spectrum. Unfortunately, it rarely works out that way. Frequency coordinators have a tendency to become "old boy" clubs that seek to protect the interests of their friends at the expense of those who are not their friends. My personal recommendation with respect to coordination is that one should avail oneself of the service if and when it is offered under reasonable terms, but not let it get in the way of doing something interesting or useful, especially if the coordination body is nonresponsive or unreasonably obstructive.

The other interesting thing about coordinators is that there's no top-down process for selecting one. Instead, the amateur radio operators (at least those eligible to be repeater or auxiliary station operators, which is everyone except Novices, and the FCC has proposed allowing Novices to be repeater operators, too) in an area choose, by no defined process, who their coordinator is. What this means, as far as I can tell, is if enough hams in an area get together and coordinate frequencies amongst themselves, and are recognized as having done so, then they've formed a coordination body and are acting as a "frequency coordinator". The FCC's regulation is very silent on what happens if there's a disagreement over who has jurisdiction in a particular area or if there are two competing entities both claiming to be "the" frequency coordinator for a given area. The key here is that the recognition process is bottom-up rather than top-down.

Finally, don't confuse frequency coordination with the bands established by the FCC (and consistent with ITU policy directives). FCC-set band allocations establish the limits of the frequencies on which an amateur may operate, with specific power limits and modulations. Also do not confuse frequency coordination with the voluntary band plans recommended by the ARRL (and other entities) for general use of frequencies within the limits of the FCC allocations. Frequency coordination is always a specific recommendation for a specific repeater or auxiliary station, based on the particular characteristics and expected usage of that station.

(Edited 8/18 to add T1A09.)