FCC Proposal to Ban 700 MHz Wireless Mics

ProSound Web issued a story on Tuesday that detailed an FCC proposal to ban all wireless mics operating in the 700 MHz band. You can read the whole story here. For even more information, click here to read the actual FCC news release in pdf format, or here to read the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Change order.

Having read through the article, the FCC news release and the NPRM (OK, I'm a geek...) a few times, here is my take. First, it's still in the proposal stages. However, the writing is on the wall. I would guess it's highly unlikely that this will get shot down. The dealine for comments is less than 30 days, and they have to reply in under 45. So my guess is that within a month or two, we'll know for sure that all 700 MHz mics will need to be shut down on February 17, 2009.

But in my mind, that's not the bad news. What worries me is the second half of the NPRM  which states the FCC will start investigating claims of false advertising against wireless mic manufacturers for leading the wireless mic buying public to believe that we could operate wireless mics without a license to do so. Huh?

Here's the deal. The FCC requires all operators of RF transmitters (TV & radio stations, ham radios, wireless mics and IEMs) to have a license to operate on a given set of frequencies. I don't know about you, but I know of no one who actually has a license to operate a wireless mic. This is because the transmitting power of a wireless mic is so much lower than a TV station that it's laughable to think a wireless mic would cause interference. Since the only other devices operating in the same specturm as wireless mics were TV stations, and TV stations obviously have the power advantage, the FCC left us unlicensed (and technically illegal) wireless mic operators alone.

This could all change if the FCC decides to open up the "white spaces" (the open frequencies between TV stations in any given market) to other low-power RF devices (to deliver broadband internet, for example). Presumably these devices would be licensed by the manufacturer, and could be the victim of interference by a wireless mic.

Depending on the outcome of the investigation, and/or complaints filed against wireless mic operators by any new devices, we could be in a lot of trouble.

The uptake on all this is simple. If you have wireless mics operating in the 700 MHz band (that is from 698-806 MHz), you have about 173 days to get rid of them. And don't wait until after the deadline to put them on ebay hoping people in South America will buy them because the rule prohibits the sale of 700 MHz equipment after the DTV transition date. Get the stuff listed now (thought it's not likely to be worth much).

Also, be prepared to endure a possible licensing process or the restriction of your wireless spectrum. If you currently run a bunch of wirless channels every weekend, start thinking about how you can get back to some wired mics (they'll sound better to boot!). We moved all our vocal mics to wired earlier this year, and I'm in the process of cutting our wireless mic inventory down from 16 channels to 8, and our IEMs from 9 to 4 (and adding 4 Aviom mixers to make up the gap).

I know the wireless manufacturers have been telling us it's all going to be all right, just buy new gear and it will be fine. That's good for them, as they're selling tons of new wireless gear right now. But if the rules change again, which they might, we'll be stuck with the tab (again).

Remember, a wired mic (with good cable anyway) is far less suseptable to RF interference and will almost always sound better than a wireless one. And you won't (for the foreseeable future) need a license to operate it!