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How FCC "White Space" Decision Will Affect U.S. Pro Audio

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[Feature] For wireless microphone operators below 698 MHz, the FCC’s recent actions yield little to be concerned about and much to be thankful for. The frequencies above 698 MHz will be gone starting in February of 2009 (in an action announced years ago and unrelated to new devices) but the rules for the new TV Band Devices (TVBDs) are so stringent that it is unlikely any interference will be caused to wireless mic systems, even to those operating illegally. In addition to setting very high technical requirements for TVBDs, the FCC finds that it is in the public interest to provide spectrum space for wireless microphones even if they are operated without the required license.

JAES Volume 56 Issue 12 pp. 1132-1135; December 2008
Publication Date:

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Henry Cohen

Comment posted February 13, 2009 @ 20:41:51 UTC (Comment permalink)

David Josephson's comprehensive article "How FCC 'White Space' Decision Will
Affect U.S. Pro Audio" is an excellent summary of the current state of affairs
regarding TVBDs and spectrum re-allocation. However, there are a couple of
items which bear correction or clarification.

On page 1133 in the second paragraph, it states "While operations have not
yet begun, hundreds of new police and fire systems will be deployed on these
frequencies nationwide beginning in February 2009." There are in fact many
700MHz public safety systems (PS) in operation, and have been for a about a
year now, as well as in testing. A simple search of the FCC ULS database
yields 22 such licenses, and an additional 51 in testing or operation for the
last six months or so. Further, the FCC all along planned for 700MHz
operations to begin as soon as the incumbent broadcaster(s) vacated their
previous >700MHz channel(s) (see FCC 97-421).

On page 1135, third paragraph, it states "registration of these sites
however are limited to those used by 'wireless microphone licensees' (para.
198 of FCC 08-260) and the FCC will remove from the database those entries . .
." It should be noted that this phrase is part of FCC 08-260's discussion
portion , and not of the new proposed Part 15 Subpart H rules. In that part of
the proposed rules which refers to protection of low power auxiliary stations
- 15.713(h)(8) - nowhere does it refer to "licensed" users, and in fact does
not even request the station license ID among that information to be included
in registering the location in the database, though the station ID *is*
required for all other services to be registered. Whether or not this is an
oversight or an intentional obfuscation of the issue remains to be seen.

Henry Cohen
Production Radio Rentals

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127th AES Convention

David Josephson
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David Josephson

Comment posted February 16, 2009 @ 17:34:10 UTC (Comment permalink)

While there are a number of licenses in various segments of the 700 MHz band, I am not aware of any in actual day-to-day use except those that were authorized by waiver in special circumstances. There may be some, and of course starting next week who knows what we'll see. It is definitely time for a good scanning receiver or spectrum analyzer to be close at hand.

Of course, since the FCC hasn't defined the operating parameters of the database, we don't know what they will require. In some cases 08-260 refers to licensed operations, in some cases "authorized" but this statement (at 216) makes their intent fairly clear: "The database can be populated by information pertaining to facilities authorized by the Commission via an extract from the Wireless
Telecommunication Bureau's ULS database. This database contains information on license holders..." Of course one could argue that "authorized" might include the extraordinary lengths that FCC is going to, in protecting existing but unlicensed users. More when we know something definite.

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Brad Rowe

Comment posted February 17, 2009 @ 17:03:04 UTC (Comment permalink)

Great article. I really learned quite a bit, thanks. I do have a couple questions for you though, Mr. Josephson.

I am a consultant and designer for small/medium sized churches with quite a bit of experience in audio engineering. I am not too familiar with the codes and requirements for churches to operate wireless systems. I do understand that most churches operate illegally by not having a license to do so. What I am wondering is what the codes say about churches. I am curious how needed a license is for a small/medium sized church. And if it really is needed, what are the loops churches would have to jump through to even get a license? And finally, what are the chances that churches would even be granted a license?

David Josephson
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David Josephson

Comment posted February 18, 2009 @ 13:34:42 UTC (Comment permalink)

Licensing is the bone of contention here. The high VHF and UHF wireless mic channels are in the broadcast segment of the spectrum, so the way the Communications Act reads, they can only be assigned to entities that have a broadcast license (AM, FM, television station). This rule has been eroded over the years — broadcast networks that didn't actually own stations were made eligible because wireless mics were used in the production of network programs that eventually were broadcast. Then, entities that produced programs for broadcasters, cable operators and motion picture producers were added. So, if you assert that you are producing a program for later broadcast on a cable network or a licensed station, you're eligible. It has nothing to do with size.

In the "white spaces" decisions, FCC has acknowledged that they know there are a lot of folks out there using wireless mics without a license, and that it is in the public interest to reserve space for them. On one hand, you could take the position that churches, theaters, musical performers and anyone else using TV band wireless mics are somehow authorized to continue operating without a license.

On the other hand, the rules defining eligibility are quite broad. If your church is any of the following, it is already eligible:

"...a person or organization engaged in the production or filming of motion pictures."
"...a person or organization engaged in the production of television programs."
"...a cable television system operator that produces program material for origination or access cablecasting" [further defined basically as a cable TV system that serves subscribers, originates at least some of its own programming, and uses public right-of-way for its facilities).

The actual licensing procedure is actually quite simple. If there is enough interest, we will publish a how-to that will explain the various steps. The cost is $75 for a license, and it covers all the wireless mics at a given location (which, in the case of the National Football League's license, for instance, is the entire US).

David Josephson
Author Response
David Josephson

Comment posted February 18, 2009 @ 13:35:59 UTC (Comment permalink)

The final rules (as final as they can be at this point, with so many things left undefined) were published in the Federal Register today, see

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Henry Cohen

Comment posted February 19, 2009 @ 17:04:52 UTC (Comment permalink)

Just to clarify: The rules published in the Federal Register on February 17th was a revision to Part 15 only (the addition of a Subpart H) to regulate the manufacture and deployment of TVBDs. This revision has nothing to do with the operation of wireless mics, which is covered under Part 74, Subpart H, and which is currently under revision as well.

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