Amateur Repeater Coordination

This is a very touchy subject in amateur radio circles. It is one of those areas of amateur radio that doesn't get covered much in the open. Part of this is because sometimes some unsavory characters are involved and sometimes it is because there isn't anyone who knows HOW to do it right. I know because I served in a coordinator position for five years within two organizations. I ran into a few characters and I can honestly say, I didn't know HOW to do it right when I first started, but I learned FAST!

This is not a condemnation of repeater coordination, but an explanation of the pitfalls and what you can do to avoid them. Hopefully, you will come to understand that you, as the repeater operator, have the responsibility to find the proper operating characteristics in order to support a repeater in the amateur service, regardless of your coordination status.

Personally, even though it was before my time as a ham operator, I long for the days when repeater coordination/operation was done by the FCC. Based upon my experience in coordination, when two opposing groups are arguing over a repeater operation, it is only when the FCC gets involved that the "egos" are settled down and order can be brought back to the airwaves.

One problem with amateur radio repeater coordination usually involves a group or individual who claims the POWER within it's geographical location.
The problem with this is the illusion of "power" because there is no coordination group in the amateur community throughout the entire United States that has any power! The Federal Communications Commission does not grant POWER to coordinate within the amateur community nor does any other organization. The POWER comes from the amateur community itself. Amateurs can choose to allow an individual or group to administer repeater coordination, and they can choose to change the same. The coordination organization can then issue RULES AND REGULATIONS that amateurs need to adhere to in order to obtain coordination, however, the amateurs are not required to obey them. Coordination itself is a GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT thing that some people choose not to abide by. The coordination group has no authority to enforce any rules except their own, which could result in the revocation or non-issuance of a coordination but they cannot stop a repeater operation. Just be aware that it is your callsign on the line regardless of your coordination status.

...any power you have comes to you from far beyond. Everything is fixed and you can't change it. (JC Superstar)

Another problem is obtaining the information to work through the system.
Some organizations throughout the country have been providing this service for some time and have worked through many problems. Most of the larger groups utilize the Internet to provide information on coordination. They also have documentation on the steps you would need to perform to request coordination. If the service is done by an individual, you may find they provide minimal information and applications take a long time to process.

Keep in mind most coordinators are not doing the job for the POWER or GLORY and we all know there can be no PECUNIARY INTEREST in amateur radio. In fact, since I have already covered the power aspect, you should also know there is little glory and by law, no money involved. Repeater coordinators are VOLUNTEERS, sometimes by election or by appointment. These people are asked to donate their time to make things better for the amateur community in general. Their only satisfaction is knowing they help reduce conflicts (most times) with the limited spectrum resources.

Most of the owner/operators barely acknowledge the existence of a repeater coordinator, let alone pass back a quick note of thanks for providing the service. The operators who get what they wanted, (renewal or newly approved operation) probably already have the repeater on the air and can't be bothered. The ones that didn't get approval probably think the coordinator is an idiot! You should keep in mind that if you do the proper research you will find the information and improve the likelihood your request will be approved.

A third problem in repeater coordination is the repeater owner/operator do not keep the coordinator up to date.
Most repeater coordination organizations have some sort of RENEWAL process. That means that every so often, written communication must take place between the owner/operators and the coordinating body. There is room for debate on who has the responsibility to maintain this renewal process. Some organizations send out notices to the contact persons, others require the owner/operator to initiate the process. Personally, I believe it is just another item the repeater owner/operator must do to ensure a properly functioning repeater is on the air. When I started processing repeater coordination requests, an amateur was responsible to ensure their license did not expire and no one sent them a REMINDER NOTICE. That has changed and now you get two notices, one from W5YI and the other from the FCC. The drawback to having the organization send the notice is sometimes the contact information has changed and the organization was not notified. Out of several hundred notices I had attempted to send out, there were about fifty that were returned by the post office as undeliverable. I managed to whittle that down to about 20 by using the FCC database to get updated addresses, but even the addresses the FCC had were not always current.

This communication for renewal is a good thing. This is where the repeater owner/operator supplies the operating parameters of the repeater to the coordinator again. The process should normally warrant a RUBBER STAMP but this is where discrepancies are sometimes found. The paperwork now takes into account the new location, bigger amplifier and new antenna that was put into operation LAST YEAR without any correspondence to the coordination group. I usually made it a point to issue TEMPORARY coordination in this instance. This usually brought another correspondence (or phone call) from the repeater owner/operator to complain because temporary approvals were only for six months while PERMENENT ones lasted two years. Not wanting to be a hard-ass about things, I usually re-issued a two-year coordination however, this was only done once for each applicant. The truth be told, I didn't have to do it twice because those that "got caught" made it a point to get coordination in advance of any more changes, so the process worked.

Why do I need coordination?
If you do the proper research, you may be able to put an operation on the air without coordination but it is in your best interest to work within the system. The main problem facing repeater operators is interference. No one owns any given frequency, however, when it comes to repeater operations, the Federal Communications Commissions has special rules regarding interference.

In the case of repeater-to-repeater interference, the FCC stipulates the non-coordinated repeater has the responsibility to resolve any interference complaints. When both repeaters are coordinated or both are not coordinated, it is the responsibility of both owner/operators to resolve the problems. Failure to resolve interference complaints can result in monetary fines levied by the FCC along with confiscation of equipment. This could be a very expensive lesson to learn.

How to Ensure Coordination is Granted

First, there are no guarantees, but if you do the research properly, coordination for a repeater operation can be obtained in most cases.

The most important thing you can do to improve your chances of obtaining coordination is to find out the band-plan for your area.
Take a few minutes of time to ensure you will be "looking" in the right part of the frequency spectrum to place your operation. If you apply for a frequency that does not adhere to the band-plan for your given area, your application will be disapproved within minutes of the coordinator looking it over. The band-plan information can usually be found in the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) Repeater Directory or obtained from your regional coordination group.

The next thing you want to do is research what repeater frequencies are vacant in your area.
This requires you to note the co-channel (same frequency) and adjacent-channel (similar frequency; dependent on band) repeaters. Keep in mind that not all repeater operations are listed in the various publications. Once you think you have found an "open" pair, LISTEN on the frequency! You should try to "listen" from the location you intend to put your operation, but initially any listening post with some height will do. Remember you are trying to find the "best" set of parameters to use in your operation. If you find the frequency has no activity, you have increased your opportunity for approval. After the band-plan is verified, most coordinators check to see if there are any co-channel operations in their records.

Try to find more than one frequency pair.
Select the best of the group before submitting your request to the coordination organization, or better yet, discuss them with the coordinator if that is possible. Sometimes the "best" frequencies are not obvious because of operating parameters and having a few "options" may speed the process of getting your repeater on the air. Amateur repeater coordinators are not there to make it difficult for you, most want to say "YES" when they can.

There is a co-channel operation listed but I can't hear it.
Try to contact the owner/operator of the repeater in question. The repeater may be off the air for a variety of reasons, including it no longer exists.  Let the owner/operator give you the "scoop" on the operation, no sense tipping your hand.  You may want to tell them about your proposed operation and ask if they have any objections to your plans. If they have no objections to your proposal, you would want to include a copy of their response in your application package to the coordinator. Don't be surprised if the coordinator contacts the other party to verify their response.

There is a co-channel operation listed and I can hear it, but they can't hear me.
Again, try to contact the owner/operator of the repeater in question. Tell them about your proposal and ask if they have any objections to your plans. I know of several co-channel repeaters operating in Southern New Jersey that would not have been approved without cooperation amounst the operators. The repeaters are low-power and usually in support of RACES/ARES in a specific local area. The operators of each repeater agreed to use the same frequency even though they are located fairly close to each other.

Submit your request to the coordinator.
Don't just fill out a form! Send the coordinator copies of the research you have done, along with a cover letter explaining the steps you have taken to make your selection. This will help the coordinator tremendously because your information can likely be verified quickly and the coordinator can spend less time researching your application, after all, you have already put the time in.

You application won't get a "rubber stamp" response because every good coordinator will check the accuracy of your information against the detail records they have access to. Hopefully the coordinators have access to the "unlisted" repeaters as well as other operating parameters that are not listed in most directories (e.g. Height Above Average Terrain, Height Above Sea Level,...). The coordinator will also contact the surrounding area coordinators should that be necessary prior to making a decision.

There is no active repeater coordinator for my area.
I know the Northern New Jersey/New York area repeater coordinator group (TSARC) has been inactive for more than five years. There was an attempt to revive the group some time ago, but the amateurs in the area would not support the "new" organization. Needless to say, repeater operations in the area (and surrounding areas) sometimes run into problems. My suggestion would be to take the same steps I outlined above and then submit your application to each of the surrounding coordinators. They will not be able to issue you coordination, but they should be able to tell you if there is any objection to your operation based upon existing repeaters in their coverage area. Please ensure they respond to you in writing so that if any problems do arise, you have some paper-trail documenting your operation.

Keep records of all correspondence regarding your repeater operation.
As pointed out above, coordination organizations come and go. Sometimes the "history/paperwork" is passed on, sometimes it isn't. A well documented operation is the best "defense" when the authorities are investigating reported trouble.

Because there may be a paper-trail existing (not to mention that you know it is WRONG), don't try to "fudge" history. I know of one repeater owner who tried to forge coordination papers to the FCC. They had all the operating parameters correct along with the contact information. Their downfall was they had put in a telephone number with an area code that was not in existence at the time the paperwork was supposed to be representing. In fact the paperwork was supposed to be from the mid 1980s and the area code had just been added in 1996. OOPS!

Amateur Repeater Coordination Groups

I will gather the information as quickly as I can. For now, you can find this information in the ARRL Repeater Directory available at most amateur radio stores.