Security use, independent news crews present challenges for frequency coordination

Although some government security frequency users created unexpected interference, the frequency coordinator for the event said efforts to minimize interference among broadcasters worked.

Despite some unexpected RF interference from government security spectrum users, the Democratic National Convention in Boston last week was a resounding success for those responsible for coordinating how the news media used spectrum to cover the event.

CBS’s Walter Sidas, a member of the frequency coordinating executive committee, sits high above the convention floor in Boston overseeing the spectrum usage of television news crews covering the Democratic National Convention.

According to Louis Libin, appointed by the FCC to be the frequency coordinator for both political conventions, planning for the event was textbook. “The relationship with the FCC was tremendous,” he said. “We acquired all of the special temporary authorizations that were needed, and the cooperation among all the broadcasters was great.”

The overall success didn’t mean there weren’t a few headaches along the way. Heightened security meant Libin and his committee had to deal with interference from government security agencies.

“The biggest challenge was not getting feedback from the (security) agencies, because they didn’t feel like they had to provide it. Basically, they feel like our responsibility is broadcast and theirs is security,” he said.

At political conventions prior to the heightened security concerns, the security agencies would inform the coordinator where interference problems were occurring. “But now there is a new level of confidentiality,” he said.

In this environment, the FCC served as an intermediary between Libin and the security agencies. "We worked with the FCC (on-site) and hoped they could resolve the issues, but they couldn’t reveal the details."

The other problem Libin and is committee faced were independent news crews showing up in Boston expecting to use their wireless mics without prior clearance. “Some of these news crews don’t even realize that a wireless mic is a wireless mic,” he said.

“Going to the convention is like going into a Grand Prix auto race. You can’t just go there facing 1000 other cars. All of your equipment has to be tuned up. We can’t go there and be expected to make sure their equipment has the right isolators, filters, circulators. Nor can we be expected to make sure it’s not putting out any spurs (spurious signals).”

At the Republican National Convention, Lubin hopes to build on the lessons learned in Boston and garner the help of convention organizers.

“At the Super Bowl, you can count on one hand the number of wireless cameras inside the event,” he explained. “At this event it is many, many times that and in bands that have never ever been used before or been shared with other users. The RF level use is higher, and the way the equipment is used stresses it to the absolute maximum.”

As long as there’s not a single rights holder to the political conventions, which probably will never happen, there will be no end in sight to the intensive spectrum use and the need for cooperation and coordination, he said.

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