I have been keeping a close eye on what the FCC has been doing over the last few months and years surrounding the DTV transition. Many might not realize that the whole reason the FCC took us through the big DTV transition. The goal was to free up frequency band space for the next generation of consumer and emergency wireless devices. The new devices will include 4G service by major cell phone providers and other portable TV Band Devices. So what does this mean for the church and our wireless mics?

First things first, if you are using wireless mics that operate in the 700 MHz frequency band its time for you to stop, and trade-in your gear if possible from one of the major vendors such as Shure or Sennheiser. Most of this equipment cannot be re-tuned. The major US audio vendors have already stopped producing 700 MHz mics, so you are safe in purchasing new mics. To clarify, the FCC is very committed to clearing the upper part of the TV bands between channels 52 and 69 – (698-806 MHz), which is the 700 MHz band. So where does this leave the church?

The FCC has announced in a recent statement that it will begin licensing devices and operators which will be restricted to broadcast and movies. The unlicensed operators and devices which includes the church must accept interference from other license and unlicensed devices. In other-words there will be two classes of wireless system operators going forward. Part 74 licensed users will have their geo-location information entered into a database so that unlicensed TV Band Devices can try and figure out if they’re about to interfere with them, and thereby know when to shut themselves off. Unlicensed users (the Church) under Part 15 must accept interference from others — which is actually what we do when we operate a wireless system currently. However in this new world of TVBD’s their operation is liable to occur in the church where people will be walking in with portable devices which will interfere with wireless mics. Since the geo-location database and licensed use go hand-in-hand, expansion of Part 74 is in the best interest of the local church, schools, performing arts centers, sports arenas, and theaters. Part 15 also stats that the FCC will limit wireless mics to 50mW of total power output.

So what is safe? Churches must trade-in or just stop using 700 MHz wireless systems by June 12, 2010. Those who need to make the switch should look at operating in several 6 MHz TV channels on either side of channel 37 (608-614 MHz). You can also look to operate in the TV band of 16-20 or 169-171 MHz which falls just below channel 7. This whole transition is still very much in process and I expect that some of the verbiage and rules will change in the coming months but at least we are now a bit more familiar with what is coming down the road.

You can read the entire FCC release by clicking here (pdf). The FCC has also released a complete list of mics that are affected by the 700 MHz clear-out, this list can be accessed by clicking here.

-Portions of this post were enhanced by Live Sound International’s February 2010 magazine.