The FCC’s recent announcement that all use of wireless microphones in the 700 MHz band must cease as of June 12, 2010, will affect a wide variety of venues currently using high quality wireless microphone systems.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has taken action to address the use of wireless microphones and to prohibit use of such equipment in the 698 – 806 MHz (700 MHz) band starting June 12, 2010. The FCC has also proposed new rules to better define where and how wireless microphones that use spectrum in the television broadcast bands may be operated. This proceeding should be of interest to any person or venue that uses wireless microphones and to anyone who manufacturers, sells or leases wireless microphones to the public.

Many schools, theaters, sports arenas, places of worship and other venues have deployed high quality wireless microphone systems that use frequencies originally allocated for television broadcasting (generally, in the range of 54 to 806 MHz). However, under the FCC’s rules, this equipment may be used lawfully only pursuant to licenses issued to broadcasters, cable television system operators or motion picture production companies. Some sources have suggested there could be as many as one million wireless microphones operating unlawfully in the United States today.

As part of the transition to digital television, broadcast spectrum in the 700 MHz band was reallocated for new mobile communications systems to be operated by commercial wireless carriers and public safety agencies. Since wireless microphones could interfere with these new mobile communications systems, the FCC recently announced that all use of wireless microphones in the 700 MHz band must cease as of June 12, 2010, or potentially earlier if a wireless carrier or public safety agency needs to use the spectrum in a particular geographic area prior to that date.

To promote consumer awareness of these new rules, anyone selling, leasing or offering for sale or lease wireless microphone equipment that operates on television broadcast channels must display certain consumer disclosures at the point of sale as well as on their websites. The FCC has provided specific language for these consumer disclosures. Based on experience during the DTV transition, it is expected that the FCC will take enforcement action against distributors or retailers who continue to advertise wireless microphones without the requisite consumer disclosures or who continue to sell wireless microphones in the 700 MHz band once these new rules are published in the Federal Register.

To provide some regulatory relief for currently unauthorized wireless microphone systems, the FCC is granting a blanket waiver of its rules to permit the continued use of some systems provided that operators follow these requirements:

  • Operate systems at 50 mW or less
  • Use equipment that has been certificated by the FCC under the standards of FCC rule Part 74 Use channels that are allocated for television broadcasting (i.e., TV channels 2 to 51 but not channel 37)
  • Operate systems at minimum distances from the nearest co-channel television broadcast station (generally, 80 miles)

The FCC may allow higher power operation upon a specific request for waiver that demonstrates a need for higher power and no threat of interference to television broadcasting.

The FCC is requesting public comment on whether to further revise its rules to accommodate wireless microphone systems. For example, it is asking whether it should revise its rules to allow unlicensed use of wireless microphones under the conditions noted above. It is also asking whether it should grant licenses under Part 74 to additional classes of users, such as large theaters, entertainment complexes, sporting arenas, religious facilities and nuclear power plants, so that higher power wireless microphones can be used at these locations. Comments will be due 30 days after the rulemaking notice is published in the Federal Register.