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Microphone interests group responds to Google’s white spaces proposal

The Microphone Interests Coalition (MIC), a broad coalition of high-profile wireless microphone users, has issued a statement that is sharply critical of the recent proposal submitted by Google to the FCC, calling on the agency to open the white spaces in the broadcast spectrum to unlicensed device use.

Google is touting the proposal as a compromise that eliminates interference concerns about using personal/portable devices in the unassigned TV channels called white spaces. The MIC, however, says the plan is far from a compromise and certainly should not be viewed as a solution for wireless microphones.

The Google proposal, similar to one submitted earlier by Motorola, would require wireless microphone users to purchase and operate a so-called “beacon” transmitter — akin to a jamming device — and rely on white space devices to sense this beacon to prevent white space device interference with microphone transmissions. It also identifies a “safe harbor” of three TV channels (36-38) in which wireless microphones could operate without interference from new devices. Additional protections would be provided by intelligent “spectrum sensing” embedded in the portable devices. This sensing technology is currently under evaluation in FCC testing.

“There are several reasons why the beacon concept compounds the ‘white spaces’ challenges already before the commission and, in engineering terms, offers no practical solution at all,” said Scott Harmala, CTO of ATK Audiotek, a firm that supplies wireless audio equipment for many of the nation’s major TV award shows. He outlined some of the concerns of MIC members:

“First, the proposed beacon has not been developed, operated or tested in any fashion or in any forum. How can the FCC possibly approve an interference protection technology without anyone having seen it work? The commission’s commitment to testing before ruling is well-known and should be followed here. This includes field analysis in actual operating environments,” Harmala said.

“Second, the beacon concept relies on spectrum sensing — the very technology that is performing so poorly in the FCC’s ongoing tests. Beacons could be just as difficult to detect as the wireless microphones themselves and could create additional interference problems. Without thorough testing, there is no way to know.”

“The Google proposal does virtually nothing to protect wireless microphones. In short, their ‘enhanced spectrum protection plan’ doesn't work,” said Ed Greene, Emmy Award-winning audio director who works on countless productions including the Academy Awards, “American Idol,” the Tony Awards and the Super Bowl halftime show. “Because of the potentially devastating effect on thousands of wireless microphones in daily use, the FCC should not consider adopting their proposal.”

MIC members also believe the proposal to establish a “safe harbor” for wireless microphones on TV channels 36 to 38 is also flawed. “Channel 37 is reserved for medical telemetry and radio astronomy use, and the commission has repeatedly acted to preserve it for that purpose,” said Ed Wieczorek, wireless audio consultant for various TV programs produced in Manhattan. “Channels 36 and 38 are occupied by DTV stations in many markets such as New York and Los Angeles, and even in those areas where they are not, two channels of spectrum are woefully inadequate for the wireless audio needs of a large production.”

“In the end, one of the biggest disappointments we have with the proposal is that it attempts once again to distract the FCC from their mission of conducting thorough research that leads to well-informed rulemaking,” said Steve Gibson, music director and producer of broadcast audio for the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, TN. “Throughout the white spaces proceeding, the promise of increased broadband access for rural America has continually been compromised by special interests that want to flood populated areas with unproven portable devices. Now that these interests have realized that there is no rabbit in their hat, they once again are trying to divert our attention. The Google proposition does not rise to the level of a reasonable and workable solution.”

The MIC includes members from the American Federation of Musicians, the Grand Ole Opry, the Broadway League, the Recording Academy and more than a dozen other corporations and individuals involved in audio for television, theatrical and music productions.