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Drop That Microphone and Slowly Back Away

Not only broadcast stations, but churches, schools, concert venues, live theater, film productions, business presenters, sporting events, and motivational speakers will have to change the way they operate, starting this weekend. As we wrote in a Client Advisory back in January, the FCC set June 12th, 2010–the anniversary of the DTV transition–as the date by which wireless microphones and other devices must cease using the spectrum that was formerly TV channels 52-59. While popularly referred to as the “700 MHz Band”, the spectrum being cleared actually runs from 698 MHz to 806 MHz.

Although the elimination of wireless microphones from this band has drawn the most attention, many other devices commonly use this spectrum and must also cease operating in this band on June 12th, 2010. These include wireless intercoms, wireless in-ear monitors, wireless audio instrument links, and wireless cuing equipment. The impact is not limited to audio devices, as even devices that synchronize TV camera signals using the 700 MHz Band must vacate the band starting this weekend.

The reason for the FCC’s band-clearing effort is to make it available (and interference free) for public safety operations, as well as for providers of wireless service that have acquired the right to use portions of the band. Those failing to cease operating their 700 MHz devices are subject to fines ($10,000 is the FCC’s base fine for illegal operation), arrest, and criminal sanctions, including imprisonment, as the FCC notes that “interference from wireless microphones can affect the ability of public safety groups to receive information over the air and respond to emergencies,” putting “public safety personnel in grave danger.” While it may be tempting to continue using 700 MHz equipment in hopes that you won’t get caught, your community theater production does not want the liability of causing interference to a rescue operation by public safety personnel.

To avoid this result, users of affected 700 MHz equipment must either modify their equipment to operate in other permitted portions of the spectrum, or cease using the equipment entirely if it cannot be modified to operate in other bands. To assist users in determining whether they have a 700 MHz microphone, the FCC has created a webpage listing many makes and models of wireless microphones, as well as the frequencies on which they operate. The site also includes contact information for many of the manufacturers of wireless microphones to obtain further information about particular microphones.

So inspect your equipment and do the research necessary to determine whether it operates in the 700 MHz Band. If so, see if it can be modified to prevent operation in that band. If not, then it looks like this weekend would be an excellent time to go shopping for that new microphone you’ve always wanted.