By Clive Young.
New York (November 5, 2008)--The FCC voted Tuesday to allow unlicensed wireless devices to operate in broadcast spectrum "White Spaces." The vote passed despite extensive opposition from the NAB; pro audio manufacturers; more than 50 members of Congress, including Senator Hilary Rodham Clinton; NARAS; the Grand Ole Opry; the Shubert Theater Organization; Harrah's Entertainment; the American Federation of Musicians; the Country Music Association; the NFL; NASCAR; the NBA; the New York City Council and innumerable artists.
The FCC noted in a statement that while it was moving forward with rules to allow the devices, it would enact "numerous safeguards to protect incumbent services against harmful interference."
The pro audio industry's primary concern has been over the effects that such devices would have on wireless microphones--a concern that the FCC singled out, noting, "Wireless microphones will be protected in a variety of ways. The locations where wireless microphones are used, such as sporting venues and event and production facilities, can be registered in [an internet] data base and will be protected in the same way as other services. The Commission also has required that devices include the ability to listen to the airwaves to sense wireless microphones as an additional measure of protection for these devices."
Shure Microphones led the the pro audio world's charge against White Space devices for the last four years, and released its own statement expressing concern at the Commission's decision, highlighting that "...the order is purported to greatly reduce the amount of clear spectrum available for use by professional audio and communications equipment.
"The Commission adopted certain important elements of Shure's recent wireless microphone interference protection plan. However, Shure is concerned that, despite technical evidence to the contrary, the Commission's action opens the door to a new breed of wireless gadgetry that relies on unproven technology as a safeguard against interference to wireless microphones. Shure is also concerned that the Commission did not reserve an appropriate number of channels for flawless operation of wireless microphone equipment and did not address several important issues necessary to ensure a robust geolocation-based database for protection of large scale events, as the Company had proposed."
The FCC stated that it would test all devices before allowing them to go to market, and the statement described such devices as both fixed and personal/portable, noting, "Such devices must include a geolocation capability and provisions to access over the Internet a data base of the incumbent services, such as full power and low power TV stations and cable system headends, in addition to spectrum-sensing technology. The data base will tell the white space device what spectrum may be used at that location."
The FCC later added, "The Commission also will permit certification of devices that do not include the geolocation and data base access capabilities, and instead rely solely on spectrum sensing to avoid causing harmful interference, subject to a much more rigorous approval process. "
Nonetheless, the decision came as a blow after four years of raising awareness of the issue in Washington, D.C. Mark Brunner, Shure's Senior Director, Global Public and Industry Relations, remarked, "While not unexpected, today's FCC decision will greatly complicate the lives of wireless microphone users across the United States and negatively affect tens of millions of Americans listening to live and broadcast events."