Later this year [2010], the U.S. Federal Communications Commission will ban the use of wireless microphones and in-ear monitor systems that operate in the 700 MHz spectrum.

This post describes when and why the ban is being implemented, provides access to a list of prohibited equipment, and briefly weighs the ban’s economic impacts.

On the FCC website explains what’s going on.

“Certain wireless microphones have operated in frequencies that are needed for public safety. When these microphones were first designed, the frequencies they used were in between the frequencies that television stations used to broadcast television programs. With the completion of the digital television (DTV) transition on June 12, 2009, television stations no longer use the frequencies between 698 and 806 MHz (the 700 MHz Band) for broadcast. These frequencies are now being used by public safety entities (such as police, fire and emergency services) and by commercial providers of wireless services (such as wireless broadband services).

“The wireless microphones that had been operating in the old TV broadcast channels can cause harmful interference to these public safety and wireless consumer services. Therefore, all users of wireless microphones (or certain low power auxiliary stations) that operate on any of the frequencies in the 700 MHz band – including both licensed users (under Part 74) and unlicensed users – now have to stop operating in this band.

“The FCC is only prohibiting the use of wireless microphones that operate in the 700 MHz Band. You may continue to use wireless microphones that operate on other broadcast frequencies. Microphones with cords are not affected by the FCC’s decision.” (webpage accessed 1/26/10 and last updated 1/14/10)

If you’re unsure whether your in-ear monitor system or any of your mics operate in the 700 MHz band, the FCC has published a manufacturers equipment list where you can search for prohibited devices and learn whether they can be modified (most cannot). As I write this, the manufacturers list indicates that it was updated on January 22, 2010.

By the way, if you perform with 700 MHz gear, you may already be experiencing interference as more and more of that spectrum is being used for wireless broadband and public safety communications.

Will the ban have a significant economic impact? For some presenters, schools, and religious centers the costs to retool will be considerable. In a January 15 article on Bloomberg, a spokesman for the Broadway League estimates that some New York City theaters will spend as much as $100,000 to replace their mics.

Independent performers with banned gear will be less burdened than theaters, but we all know that any unexpected expense can be tough for self-supporting musicians. Nonetheless, we must comply with the law. The FCC isn’t saying what penalties they might levy on those who defy the new ruling, but none of us wants to undermine emergency communications or be written up in the local media for doing so.The Musician's Way book cover

Fortunately, several leading manufacturers offer rebates to purchasers of 700 MHz equipment. Shure and Sennheiser, for example, just extended their rebate deadlines to June 30, 2010.

If you’d like more information, the FCC maintains a guide page, which even offers suggestions for recycling old electronics. You can also call, fax, or write the FCC – their contact info is published at the bottom of their web pages. The entire 100-page order from the FCC is available here.

You can read more about in-ear monitors and other hearing conservation issues on pages 277-291 of my book The Musician’s Way.

Will you or someone you know be affected by this ruling? If so, how?

© 2010 Gerald Klickstein