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The FCC's shut-off

As part of its effort to clear all broadcast operations out of the 700MHz band on or before the Feb. 17, 2009, DTV transition, the FCC has imposed a freeze on any new authorizations for low-power auxiliary equipment operating on 698MHz to 806MHz. The FCC also has proposed to modify all outstanding licenses on these frequencies, so they will terminate as of Feb. 17, 2009. Currently, the most prevalent low-power equipment operating in the 700MHz band accommodates wireless microphones. Effective Aug. 21, these and other low-power 700MHz auxiliary facilities are no longer being licensed.

The FCC has said for years that full-service broadcasters would be removed from the 700MHz band as of the DTV transition date, but the agency has not been as clear, until now, about ending low-power auxiliary operations in the band.

In any event, the FCC has proposed to modify all outstanding low-power 700MHz licenses to specify that, to the extent that those licenses permit operation in the 700MHz band, they will expire as of Feb. 17, 2009. According to the commission, a wide range of alternate frequencies are available for use for such auxiliary services.

A blanket prohibition

The FCC has also proposed a blanket prohibition against the marketing of any devices that operate as low-power auxiliary stations in the 700MHz band. That would include the manufacture, import, sale, offer for sale or shipment of such devices. The prohibition would take effect as soon as the proposal is adopted. Because this proceeding appears to be on a fast track, it's possible that the prohibition could be in effect before the end of the year.

Besides the upcoming DTV transition deadline, a major impetus for the FCC's sudden concern about low-power 700MHz operation was pressure from the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition (PISC), which filed a complaint against several wireless microphone manufacturers, and a petition proposing, among other things, the creation of a “General Wireless Microphone Service” to use, on a secondary basis, vacant UHF channels below Channel 52. The FCC has requested comments on the PISC's proposals, but no action is expected on them in the near future.

Will it work?

The FCC's decision does not address precisely how it would enforce a blanket prohibition against everyone who currently owns and operates a 700MHz wireless mic. Many such mics are used by organizations like churches, theaters and corporate event venues, which are not likely to be keeping abreast of the technical details of their gear, much less the FCC's pronouncements. Thus, it is unlikely the FCC's abrupt ban on 700MHz auxiliary devices is going to be completely effective.

Harry C. Martin is a past president of the Federal Communications Bar Association and a member of Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth, PLC.

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