Pending use of broadcast television “White Spaces” holds possible changes for wireless microphone users
Within both home and workplace, it seems as if everything is going wireless these days. Based upon the proliferation of countless gadgets and devices ranging from computer keyboards to even doorbells with realistic sounding Westminster chimes, it isnít hard to imagine a future that likely holds the promise of a bold new cordless era where nothing ever needs a plug, and wires and cables will be things only your grandparents remember.
Just as in many other segments of our society, houses of worship certainly have come to rely upon wireless technologies, especially in terms of the microphone systems used to support services. Today, itís not at all uncommon for a wireless microphone to be seen at the pulpit during a sermon, in the hands of a praise team member, or used to give select singers in the choir larger voice. More stable and sounding better than ever before, wireless microphone systems are a given in most houses of worship, providing greater freedom of movement and even ease of setup and operation.
Given the tempo of the times, it becomes hard not to envision a scenario in which the wireless world continues to become a better place. There are, however, a few bumps on the cordless path into the future worth learning about, this thanks to a culprit none other than television.
Television certainly has endured its share of brickbats over the years, with child development experts telling us too much makes our kids violent, and even a forward-thinking small screen pioneer like Ernie Kovacs declaring that it is often called a “medium” because it’s so rarely well done.
Criticism on content aside, what has clearly improved in the world of broadcast television in recent times is the picture itself. With the advent of digital, high-definition TV, we can now experience greater detail and picture clarity than ever before. We can count stray hairs on our local anchorman’s carefully-coiffed head, absorb the richness and depth of a stunning rainbow of colors, and see wildlife films that appear almost more realistic than nature itself.
As you can rightly expect, along with the age of DTV has come a governing body of new broadcast regulations devised by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and here is where the future starts to get challenging for wireless microphone systems. While in most markets today television broadcasts are delivered in both traditional analog and DTV formats, according to current FCC mandates, all analog broadcasts will cease as of February 18, 2009. The loss of these channels will effectively expand the amount of empty channels, or “White Spaces” found in the public airwaves. Compounding the size of this unused portion of the broadcast spectrum further is the fact that unlike in our analog-only TV past, which required more empty space between occupied channels as a safeguard against interference, DTV technology creates a far more efficient and precise environment where channels can coexist much closer to one another without problems.
Given their open character, the White Spaces have historically served as the sanctioned place for wireless microphone systems to transmit and receive signals. With the DTV transition, all could conceivably remain well and good, or at least status quo for wireless mics into the future with one major exception: The FCC, under pressure from government and business, has plans for opening the White Spaces to other, not yet clearly defined usage, which may include wireless broadband and a wide range of mobile devices.
With major consumer electronics manufacturers and high-tech industry already lining up to fill this void with what is certain to be a torrent of wireless products and services, it becomes easy to understand that the potential for interference with wireless microphone systems will be great unless mindful care is given to the task of moving forward. Test results delivered to the FCC have shown that interference could be significant.
It can certainly be argued that it would be good public policy to better utilize an untapped resource like the White Spaces, but in all fairness to users of wireless microphone systems, the transition time to their opening up to other devices and services should be lengthy enough–at least until the February 18, 2009 DTV transition date–to provide the time needed to make it a smooth one for all concerned.
Such is not the thinking of others, however, who feel that the process should be moved forward as quickly as possible. In the 109th Congress last year, two bills were introduced in the Senate Commerce Committee that would both have directed the FCC to move quickly to free-up the White Spaces. These bills were the Wireless Innovation Act of 2006 (WINN Act) introduced by Senators George Allen (R-VA), John Kerry (D-MA), John Sununu (R-NH), and Barbara Boxer (D-CA); and the American Broadband for Communities Act (ABC Act) introduced by Commerce Committee Co-Chairman Ted Stevens (D-AK). The language of the bills was incorporated into the telecom bill, S. 2686, which died as Congress adjourned in December of last year.
In the House, Representative Jay Inslee (D-WA) tried to include a measure in a House DTV bill that similarly mandated that the FCC move quickly to finish its White Spaces proceedings. The House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman passed the amendment out of committee, but the language was removed from the final legislation.
Two more bills were again introduced in the Senate Commerce Committee in January of this year that would accelerate the opening of the White Spaces. The first, a bipartisan measure sponsored by Senators John Kerry and Gordon Smith (R-OR), would direct the FCC to move quickly on the White Spaces, and also make them open to unlicensed wireless. The second bill, introduced by John Sununu, would also direct the FCC to act on the issue, but does not mandate that the airwaves be opened to unlicensed use.
On the other side of the fence, manufacturers of wireless microphone systems have remained far from mute on the topic, and are leading their own lobbying campaigns aimed at educating senators and the public at large on the consequences of moving too quickly on this issue. Beyond the wireless microphone systems used in houses of worship, careless management of the White Spaces could harmfully impact everything from the communications at a football game between the referee and the crowd to Broadway plays, concerts, and even the public speeches of the senators trying to speed up the transition process. Without thinking this action through properly, at best interference is likely, and at worst, wireless microphone operation may become untenable.
Last October the FCC issued a document entitled A First Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. In it, the Commission took its first official steps toward unleashing the White Spaces, and set the date of the DTV transition, February 18, 2009, as the day when new low power devices and services could begin to operate in the broadcast television spectrum.
In the interest of fairness, the Commission also used the report and notice to reveal that it planned to conduct extensive testing to assess potential interference of the forthcoming low power devices slated for use in the White Spaces before adopting final rules, and welcomed comments from other parties, as well as the test results of others. While the official date for receiving these comments expired as of March 2, 2007, those of you reading this who rely on wireless microphone technology are strongly encouraged to contact your own senators and representatives and provide your thoughts on the topic.
For more than three years, Shure has been actively involved in helping to shape the outcome of the proposed re-allocation of these White Spaces to protect the interests of wireless microphone users. If you are interested in contacting your legislators or filing comments with the FCC, there is a resource page on Shureís website with information about this issue, located at: http://www.shure.com/ProAudio/PressRoom/WhiteSpaces/index.htm. Instructions and links that provide help with filing comments are included on this page.
Moving forward together we can make a sound, logical transition, realizing both the benefits of opening up the White Spaces and the existing technologies already at work within them. According to established communication theories, it is impossible to not communicate. Even by saying nothing, one still is communicating something, even if itís only that they at least donít care enough to comment. This is one issue we all need to speak up on, loudly.