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FCC Tells Wireless Mics to Get off 700MHz Spectrum Band

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission will prohibit hundreds of existing wireless microphone models from being used in the U.S. in five months because they operate in the 700MHz spectrum band, which was auctioned off to mobile voice and broadband carriers in 2008.

The FCC prohibited electronics makers from selling existing devices that operate in the 700MHz spectrum as of Friday in an order issued the same day. Any existing devices broadcasting in the 700MHz band will have to stop operating by June 12, the FCC said.

The main products affected by the ban will be wireless microphones, which have operated without FCC licenses in television spectrum for years. While many wireless microphones operate in lower spectrum bands, and will be able to continue there, the FCC has listed more than 300 models of wireless microphone and related components from 12 major manufacturers that will no longer be allowed to operate in the 700MHz band after June 12.

Among manufacturers listed on the FCC site with wireless microphones operating in the 700MHz band are Shure, Sennheiser, Sony and Samson Wireless. Representatives of Shure and two microphone groups didn't immediately respond to a request for comments on the FCC's order.

Most wireless microphone systems will continue to work because they don't operate in the 700MHz band, said Matthew Nodine, chief of staff in the FCC's wireless telecom bureau. Many wireless microphone makers and users have expected the FCC order since the agency auctioned off the 700MHz spectrum for mobile broadband and other uses in early 2008, he said.

The FCC will try to assist wireless microphone customers with any questions about making the transition to other microphones, Nodine said. Customers may also want to contact their microphone makers, he added. "We're going to do everything we can to help out customers," he said.

The FCC has already begun reaching out to people using wireless microphones, and the FCC will conduct an "aggressive" education campaign to reach out to wireless microphone users, the agency said in a press release.

The 700MHz band was formerly used by U.S. television stations, but the U.S. Congress voted in late 2005 to require stations to move off the spectrum and switch to all-digital broadcasts. U.S. TV stations exited the 700MHz spectrum last June.

The goal of the digital TV transition was to free up spectrum for commercial and public safety uses, but 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. Several lawmakers pushed for the digital TV transition after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. Many of the rescue agencies that responded to those attacks couldn't communicate with each other because they were using incompatible communications devices on different areas of the spectrum.

The Public Interest Spectrum Coalition, made up of six consumer and digital rights groups, petitioned the FCC to ban the use of wireless microphones on the 700MHz band.

The FCC's action will allow "for rapid deployment of new wireless technologies while protecting consumers who bought wireless microphones in good faith," Harold Feld, legal director of coalition member Public Knowledge, said in a statement. "As a result of this order, more spectrum will be available ... in the 700 MHz band for new services."

The FCC order requires wireless microphone makers to tell customers that the devices operate in television spectrum without FCC approval. These notices will "curtail the previous deceptive advertising practices by wireless microphone manufacturers," Feld said.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the commission's ban on wireless microphones in the 700MHz spectrum was a "necessary and essential action" to complete the digital TV transition.

"Our decision will accelerate the buildout of 4G wireless networks, and will prevent interference with first responders who rely on the 700 MHz Band for mission-critical communications," he said in a statement.

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