FCC’s wireless mic ban imposes unfair burden

I’m thinking out loud here.

Five or six wireless microphones. It doesn’t sound like a lot.

Multiply that by thousands of wireless mics rendered useless by the federal government and it adds up.  It may place an unfair burden worth potentially millions of dollars on the owners of the mics.

The five wireless mics used by the  College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln operate on the 700 MHz frequency.  We use them for classroom and field student training.

The wireless mics work well.  We are throwing them away and will have to spend more money in a very tight budget year to buy new wireless mics because of a new Federal Communications Commission rule.

Last month, the FCC banned the use of the 700 MHz wireless mics for anyone but public safety workers and emergency first responders.

According to PC World, that FCC ban covers 300 models of wireless microphone and related components from 12 major manufacturers. All were  banned from operating in the 700MHz band after June 12. Here’s the list of outlawed wireless mics.

The back story:

The FCC’s action is a direct result of  the government’s auctioning off of lucrative parts of the broadcast spectrum for billions of dollars to commercial bidders.  It did this in 2008 as part of the digital TV transition and reallocated part of the 700 MHz spectrum for uses such as public safety and emergency response.

As PC World reports:

“The portion of the spectrum dedicated for police and fire departments failed to sell in an early 2008 auction that raised $19.6 billion for the U.S. treasury.”

Engadget.com reported that Verizon alone plunked down $4.7 billion to buy wireless turf in the 700 MHz spectrum.

Published reports quote one FCC official who estimated 10 to 12 percent of all wireless mics used the 700 MHz spectrum.  These are thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of wireless mics used by colleges, churches, musicians, theater groups, theme parks, TV and radio stations, conference centers, even folks who bought karaoke machines for their homes.

Interesting note: You could still buy the 700 MHz mics from some retailers as recently as late last December.

The FCC’s new mandate renders all those mics and the money spent to buy them as obsolete.

  • The Columbus Dispatch says the Columbus Children’s Theatre used four of the wireless mics for musicals like Jesus Christ Superstar or The Wizard of Oz. The  four microphones that the theater used cost about $1,000 to $2,000 each.  “Now we have very expensive equipment that’s worthless,” said William Goldsmith, the theater’s artistic director. “There are thousands of these microphones around the country that are now worthless.”
  • The CBS station in Odessa, Texas says the First Baptist Church in Odessa had to spend $14,000 replacing 13 or 14 of the FCC banned wireless mics.  Across town, the Permian High School choir found out in May that it would have to buy an all new wireless mic system for its choir ensemble. All of their mics broadcast on the 700 MHz band, and they have until August to raise $15,000 for new microphones.
  • In a Bloomberg article this year, a spokesman for the Broadway League estimated that some New York City theaters would spend $100,000 to replace their mics.

The FCC offers no compensation for the inconvenience or monetary expense of replacing the banned 700 MHz wireless mics.   The FCC says those caught using 700 MHz equipment face fines, confiscation of their banned mics and potential criminal liability.

Here’s the FCC’s explanation:

Interference from wireless microphones can affect the ability of public safety groups to receive information over the air and respond to emergencies. Harmful interference to these communications could put you or public safety personnel in grave danger.

OK, but perhaps a bit of compassion by the FCC is in order here for the thousands of owners of these 700 MHz mics. Especially since the federal government made billions of dollars by selling portions of the broadcast frequencies.

One might argue that the FCC’s move is a form of eminent domain where the government uses its power to appropriate property (the broadcast spectrum and wireless mic equipment that goes with using it) for public use.

In the United States, owners of such appropriated property are entitled to reasonable compensation, usually defined as the fair market value of the property.

Here’s my proposal: The FCC should use a small portion of that $19.6 billion raised from the U.S. government’s commercial auction of the broadcast spectrum. Create a fund to reimburse schools, churches, theater groups, musicians, theme parks, TV and radio stations, conference centers and karaoke fans who bought the 700 MHz mics. Through no fault of their own, they have been ordered by the FCC to trash their mics. The FCC can even set depreciated reimbursement values on the used mics based on the age of the equipment.

That’s just my own suggestion. I believe it would make the FCC look less capricious and more sympathetic to owners (they pay taxes too) who got stuck holding the bag,  I mean wireless mics, when the 700 MHz ban hit in June.

One more note: Some mic manufacturers have offered rebates to purchasers of 700 MHz wireless mic equipment. Shure and Sennheiser are two of them.

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About Bernard McCoy

My views are my own and not a reflection of my employer. I'm a professor of Journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I've also been a working journalist for the past 29 years. I have covered news stories in war zones, reported on human and natural disasters, presidential conventions, a presidential inauguration and the September 11th, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. My career experiences include work as an award-winning documentary producer, television news reporter, photographer, producer, and anchor. I worked at WIBW-TV, Topeka, KS., KCTV, Kansas City, MO, WKBD-TV, Detroit, MI., WILX-TV, Lansing, MI. and WBNS-TV, Columbus, OH. I have also worked as a contributing reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, Associated Press, CBS, CNN, the Ohio News Network and lecture at the Kosovo Institute of Journalism and Communications. I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a master’s degree in telecommunications management from Michigan State University.
This entry was posted in broadcasting, Business, Economy, education, FCC, Journalism, nebraska, new media, Radio, television, The United States, Uncategorized, University of Nebraska. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to FCC’s wireless mic ban imposes unfair burden

  1. Joel Geyer says:

    Good blog. I own a wireless and thankfully I just purchased it from B&H in NYC. The new Sennheisers have 20 frequency banks pre-set at the factory. All are in the 566-608 MHz range. Good news if you just purchased a set. But this is a frequency “grab” that blind-sided some good people.

  2. Karl Winkler says:

    I like your idea a lot but it is probably far too late. Most of the negotiations between the FCC, wireless mic manufacturers and users took place years ago.

    One other comment is in response to the point about finding 700 MHz wireless microphones in retailers as late as December 2009. The manufacturers and the trade press (audio, theater, touring, filmmaking, video production, etc.) has done a great deal over the past decade to warn people about this issue. Sure, Sennheiser and Audio Technica have offered rebates. Lectrosonics modified older equipment. But still, the message did not reach the users until early 2010 when the FCC actually made it illegal to use these products as of June 12, 2010.

  3. John S. says:

    In rural areas in won’t hurt to still use 700mhz mics. Our church in Illinois bought new 700mhz mics in mid 2008, probably after the FCC’s decision was made. The place we bought them from told us to not worry about it as public safety won’t be going to that band.

    • KM says:

      Hi John, hear is my take on the issue. And yes, these mics were just wrongfully made illegal by the FCC. Federal government make the money, and we get the shaft. However, being in a rural area, makes you less likely to get caught. The FCC does not have the manpower to go out and enforce the ban. These are low powered systems that they have to literally drive out to your church to see if you are breaking the law. More likely what will happen is that the legal users of your frequency/ies will get interference and you will likely also. The more you are a populated area, the more chances the problems will likely occur. If you are a problem to the legal user, they will be the ones to snuff you out.
      As far as emergency personel using the 700 mgh band in your area, I don’t know. I grew up and work around firefighter and know threw them that neither police, ambulance, and fire personel do not use anything in the 700 mgh band in our area so I know that we won’t interfer with them. That would be good to know. You don’t want police officers crusing down your road pass your church and picking up interference when you are having church. Dead giveaway in a rural area. If any emergency personal switched to 700 mgh band in your area, quit using you wireless mics.
      Otherwise, I don’t endorse breaking the law, but your chance in getting caught is very slim. If the manufacturer can retune or modify your current system at miminal or no cost, take advantage of that now. If you have to literally replace the system, go before the church and explain the situation. Explain that if we don’t change that there is a chance that our church services can be interfered with and worst case, get a hefty fine. As long as you know thats it illegal don’t just keep using it and figure you will be alright.

  4. Karl Winkler says:

    John S. – here’s the problem with that: the use of those wireless microphones is now ILLEGAL. The FCC has made this very clear. Although the likelihood of any trouble from Johnny Law is quite slim, it is certainly there. Someone else now owns that spectrum and if they were to find you, you could end up with a hefty fine.

    The dealer who sold you those products did not do you any favors. Even if there are no public safety channels within the band where your wireless mics operate, that spectrum is still owned by someone else.

    • KM says:

      here’s the problem with that: the use of those wireless microphones is now ILLEGAL. The FCC has made this very clear. Although the likelihood of any trouble from Johnny Law is quite slim, it is certainly there. Someone else now owns that spectrum and if they were to find you, you could end up with a hefty fine.

      how comes were wireless mics allowed to use that ban and then not allowed?

      • Karl Winkler says:

        KM,

        As you probably know, the government works in mysterious ways. In terms of RF spectrum, it is a lot like land. When the government determines that they need the land (or the RF spectrum), they take it. In this case, they had been leasing it to broadcasters for many years – decades in fact. But the spectrum became more valuable to wireless data services. Thus, the FCC auctioned it to private users and also reserved some of it for public safety. Now, the previous users (broadcasters and wireless microphone users) no longer have access to this portion of the spectrum.

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  6. Ron Streicher says:

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    As an owner of sixteen channels of UA wireless microphone systems – representing an investment of nearly $20,000 over a period of years, it is distressing that this equipment now has been made literally worthless due to these new regulations and that I have no options to recover my investment other than trying to find buyers outside the US. True, I have been able to use some of this equipment as “trade-ins” to Shure for microphone systems in the new, legal band. However, the trade-in “allowance” was minimal, and that still leaves me with several thousands of dollars of “dumpster ballast” in my garage.

    YES, I’m sure that the 19.6 billion dollars received by the government from the sale of this spectrum is more than sufficient to recompense those of us whose otherwise perfectly good and usable equipment is now worthless. I suggest that everyone affected should write his/her Congressional Representatives. I did … however, the response was underwhelming because mine was just one voice. It will take a concerted effort from the thousands (tens of thousands?) of us who are affected by this to raise this issue above the “noise level” of Congress.

  7. Dalton Priddy says:

    I have some wireless products on ebay for sale and just found out they are illegal to sale. This is one of the biggest scams in audio history. The manufactures reap tens of millions in replacement sales while the feds reap billions for the sale of those frequencies. Mean while, those of us who invested in these products were never told of there limited use in time and are now screwed. Of course. pot is also illegal from the feds point of view, yet many states are now allowing sales and use. Catch us if you can..on 700mhz, your Pirate Radio frequency broadcasting truth for the new revolution.

  8. Vin says:

    Yeah, its a bummer most of the folks have to replace pricey systems, but that’s just how the world works today. The 700 MHz frequency is now bought by Verizon wireless and other wireless company-s to expand their 4G networks for cell phones. If the FCC was not around to regulate, there would be mass mis-communication at all times, I am a amateur radio operator, and it is nice to know that someone is there to regulate how the licenses are given. If you owned a piece of property, wouldn’t you want other people not to barge in whenever they want to? The same apply s to the 700 MHz frequency, the cell phone company are the rightful owners of the band, then get a different band of a mic. If you do pirate the band you may get in much trouble with the FCC and the owners of the band, so it would be easier to comply with the rule instead of breaking it. If you do break it the FCC has written rules and regulations that you may be fined in excess of $30,000-$45,000, also the wireless company that owns the band may sue you. According to the FCC website link: http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/wirelessmic_advisory.html . Also if you do operate you 700 MHz wireless mic currently, it is called Harmful Interference. If you want to get back at the FCC in some way then start a petition to change the rule. Good luck on finding a new mic. PS: I know some manufacturers are willing to give you some sort of credit towards a different band other than the 700 MHz depending on the age of the mic and when you purchased it check out the link that I have posted. I remember reading at most manufacturers that they’ll replace your system for free if you’ve purchased the 700 MHz equipment within six months, or something along those lines.

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