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FCC may impede wireless microphones

WASHINGTON (BP)–The use of wireless microphones in churches could be among the technologies dramatically changed if the Federal Communications Commission votes to place new unlicensed devices in unused bandwidth called “white space.”

The FCC is scheduled to vote Nov. 4 on the use of white space devices in old analog TV frequencies. Technology companies such as Google, Microsoft and Dell formed the White Space Coalition to press for use of open-air space to deliver wireless broadband Internet to homes.

White space serves to separate TV channels, preventing interference between them. The White Space Coalition plans to fill white space with unlicensed devices — items such as wireless broadband services, wireless multimedia systems, Palm Pilots and other PDAs, and cordless telephones, according to a report by the audio company Shure.

Broadcasters are concerned that the change will create interference with TV signals and wireless technology.

For churches, meanwhile, loss of white space may cause problems for preachers, worship leaders and vocalists who use wireless microphones.

“If the vote passes, it will totally change everything we do,” said Chip Leake, worship pastor at the Nashville-area Thompson Station Baptist Church, which has an average Sunday morning attendance of 1,800.

“Going back to wired microphones would change the way our pastor preaches [or] cost our church thousands of dollars,” Leake told Baptist Press.

David Donovan, president of the Association for Maximum Service Television, noted that technology companies could receive up to $24 billion through the White Space Coalition proposal to advance wireless Internet by accessing frequencies previously used by analog TV.

“What we have here is a plan by the government that will not only harm all TV viewers, but also potentially interfere with wireless microphones, news reporters and entertainers,” Donovan told Baptist Press.

Broadway theater groups, wireless microphone manufacturers, cable TV networks, sports leagues and numerous lawmakers also are concerned about white space devices, according to the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB).

The FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology released a report Oct. 15 presenting research findings on “prototype TV white space devices.” The executive summary of the report said white space devices would be allowed to operate in the TV spectrum after the transition from analog to digital television (DTV) ends next February.

The report said wireless microphone testing was conducted in two different locations. Each test was held in “pre-determined” channels to see if devices could sense the existence of wireless microphones. One device reported channels were occupied, while the second device showed available channels, even when microphones were turned on.

The authorization of low-power transmitting devices will “allow the development of new and innovative types of unlicensed devices that provide broadband data and other services for business and consumers without disrupting the incumbent television and other authorized services that operate in the TV bands,” the summary said.

Bob Powers, director of government relations for the National Religious Broadcasters, voiced concern that there is no evidence of interference safety in the FCC test results.

“We have been concerned all along about the decision of the FCC chairman [regarding the vote],” Powers told Baptist Press. “It will affect microphone use and DTV signals.”

The switch from analog to DTV will evacuate channels in the 700 megahertz band, moving analog TV broadcasters off channels 52 through 69. Broadcasters will be given channels 2 through 51. If the FCC votes to allow unlicensed devices to operate in white spaces, it will go into effect Feb. 17.

According to the magazine Broadcasting & Cable, recent FCC studies found white space devices interfered with TV signals when using adjacent channels.

“The report said that in those cases, the ability of the devices to sense other channels, and thus avoid interfering with them, was ‘severely impacted,’ so much so that the engineers couldn’t even measure how much,” the magazine reported. “The tests showed problems with sensing TV stations, microphones and interference with cable TV reception.”

An Oct. 23 NAB report said chief executives from ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX wrote the FCC to express concern over the reliability of white space devices on spectrum-sensing technology. The letter urged the FCC to seek public comment on the Oct. 15 engineering field report.

“[T]he FCC has got to get this matter right the first time,” the executives said. “If millions of unlicensed devices flood the market in the next few years, and it turns out that sensing still does not work … how will that damage be undone?”

People can help prevent the recommendation from passing by calling the FCC and members of Congress to express concern, Donovan said.

“At a time where Americans are scraping their pockets due to the bailout, why would you want to give companies like Google and Microsoft a multi-billion-dollar gift of spectrum?” Donovan asked. “Everyone will be affected by this election-day surprise gift.”
Elizabeth Wood is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.

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