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White Space: FCC to Look at Wireless Mics After Far-Reaching Complaint

A group of nonprofit groups that support the use of unlicensed devices on the DTV white spaces has unleashed a legal broadside against wireless mic manufacturers, and FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said he expects the commission will launch a rulemaking procedure on the matter at its Aug. 22 meeting.

The complaint—singling out Shure Inc.—says wireless mic makers have sold hundreds of thousands of the offending mics and marketed them for illegal use in Channels 51-69 of the TV band. It says the commission should designate users as secondary to Advanced Wireless Service operators, who have already purchased the licenses at auction and expect to use it after the full-power analog TV shutoff in February 2009.

Shure Senior Director of Public and Industry Relations Mark Brunner said he believed the FCC had plans for the upcoming NPRM well before last month’s complaint. The company welcomes the rulemaking as an opportunity to clarify how it should instruct its customers to comply with the needs of new users after broadcasters vacate the spectrum, he said.

The complaint says illegal users of the mics—folks in non-broadcast applications such as churches, theaters and security—could “come into the light” with a newly invented license for “General Wireless Microphone Service.”

Wireless mic makers would pay for any costs of new equipment related to the compliance, the complaint suggested.

The informal complaint and petition for rulemaking was filed July 16 by Andrew Jay Schwartzman and Harold Feld of the Media Access Project. In the filing, they also represent the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition, which also includes Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Free Press, New America Foundation and Public Knowledge.

The groups say that the mics are permitted only for broadcast applications, but that Shure and others marketed mics to non-broadcast users, including churches and theaters.

In addition to Shure, the complaint names manufacturers Nady Systems Inc., VocoPro, Audio2000, Sennheiser Electronic Corp., Audix Microphones, Electro Voice (a subsidiary of Bosch Communications Systems), Hisonic International Inc., and Pyle Audio.

It also names merchants H&F Technologies Inc., B&H Foto & Electronics Inc.,, Kato Electronics Inc., AVSuperstor (a division of Aatronics Inc.),, LLC, Karoke Warehouse, Dumar Systems Inc. (dba DB Karoke), BuyNow Inc., Circuit City Stores Inc. But the complaint recommends treating the merchants as victims of the manufacturers rather than as co-conspirators.

Brunner said the charge that Shure misled its customers onto the spectrum, is “a bit of misinformation” from the groups. He said the wireless mic makers have been asking the FCC for direction on how to advise their customers now using those frequencies.

Typically, Brunner said, wirelss mics find ranges with the most available spectrum. Early this decade, the upper TV band was relatively open. “But as more clarity came around regarding the timing of the DTV transition and the future allocation of the TV spectrum, we directed our product development away from the 700 MHZ band,” Brunner said. “We’ve been expecting this NRPM and it’s eagerly anticipated by our industry.

He said he expects rules that will come out of the NRPM to address specifics of mic use—who can use them and for how long, and how they will transition off the channels. “In the absence of that, we have advised clients to transition to equipment out of those ranges to TV band below 51,” Brunner said.

Martin said the NPRM may be released if the commission holds a meeting Aug. 22, or may be released separately.