Skip to main content

FCC prohibits wireless mics in 700MHz band after DTV transition

The FCC has voted unanimously to ban the use of wireless microphones and other devices in the 700MHz band after the transition to digital television Feb. 17. Also included in the FCC order is equipment for cue and control communications and that synchronizes TV camera signals.

The FCC also wants to prohibit the manufacture, import, sale or shipment of devices that operate as low-power auxiliary stations in the 700MHz band after the transition is complete. Anticipating the decision, wireless microphone vendors like Shure have not manufactured such mics since the end of 2007.

Wireless microphones have long been sharing the spectrum with broadcasters on Channels 52 through 69. Those channels, however, are being reclaimed for advanced wireless uses by industry players and first-responders after the transition to DTV.

Responding to consumer groups, the FCC Enforcement Bureau has opened an investigation into how manufacturers market wireless microphones to users.

The Public Interest Spectrum Coalition alleged in a complaint last month that users of wireless microphones, including Broadway stage shows and large churches, are unwittingly violating FCC rules that require licenses for the devices. The group accused wireless manufacturers of deceptive advertising in how they market and sell the microphones, which largely operate in the same radio spectrum as broadcast TV stations.

Most wireless microphone owners are unaware that FCC rules require them to obtain a license. Wireless microphones that operate in the same frequency bands as broadcast TV stations are intended for use in the production of TV or cable programming or the motion picture industry, according to FCC rules.

The FCC rarely enforces the licensing requirements on the microphones because there have been so few complaints; the microphones are programmed to avoid TV channels. However, transition to digital broadcasting has forced the FCC to act.

It’s not known how many wireless microphones are in operation, but Harold Feld, an attorney for the Media Access Project, said the total is likely more than 1 million. “These are the favored frequencies because they can be run at lower power and can be used for very high-quality audio,” Feld told the Associated Press.

The wireless microphone issue stems from the FCC’s consideration of using the spectrum between TV channels for transmitting wireless broadband signals. Consumer groups and some of the nation’s largest technology companies say these “white spaces” represent enormous potential to make broadband more accessible.

Wireless microphone users and manufacturers have objected to the FCC over future white space devices because of fears of interference, even though many of them haven’t been granted government licenses for the microphones they’re using.