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 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.