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Nashville-Based Coalition Urges FCC to Protect Wireless Mics

On May 13, 2008, a number of leading Nashville-based music interests told the Federal Communications Commission that allowing millions of wireless devices to operate in the same spectrum as wireless microphones without failsafe protections would be a “catastrophe.” The music interests stated that they are “disturbed” by manufacturers who are anxious to produce new television “white space” devices and, in the process, are pushing the FCC to “discount—even overlook” the poor performance prototype technology platforms have had in the FCC’s labs.

“We know all too well that there is no ‘second chance’ to re-do a live performance,” says Steve Gibson, the Grand Ole Opry’s music director and producer of broadcast audio. “The ‘white spaces’ proposals being considered by the FCC could turn Music City into a silent city unless they get it right. As it stands, these proposals will not provide critical protection to the wireless microphone systems that are integral to every show.”

In their filing, the Grand Ole Opry, Country Music Television (CMT), the Country Music Association (CMA), MTV Networks, Fitzgerald Hartley (management for Vince Gill and LeAnn Rimes), SGTV (producer for the Dove Awards) and SeisMic Sound (audio engineers for the CMT Video Music Awards and the Dove Awards) called on the FCC to maintain its “cautious” approach to determining whether wireless “white spaces” devices that operate in the same spectrum as wireless microphones should be sold to the public. They asserted that the Commission must ensure that any proposed new devices can actually protect wireless microphones before issuing rules regarding their design and operation.

The filing states: “We fully support and appreciate the Commission’s decision to test ‘white space’ device prototypes—in laboratory and field environments—to assess whether they will, in fact, prevent interference to existing spectrum users. It should go without saying that the Commission should not proceed to the next step unless those tests demonstrate that spectrum sensing or other interference protection measures being proposed can reliably protect wireless microphones and DTV.”

The groups criticized the “beacon” plans recently proposed by some technology companies, noting that these beacons would rely on spectrum sensing to avoid wireless microphones. “Spectrum sensing has not been proven reliable by the FCC’s labs and has no record of successfully preventing interference,” says Gibson.

Moreover, the groups noted in their filing that the beacon plan would require wireless microphone users to purchase a separate beacon for each channel used, “imposing a significant additional expense and an operational nightmare.”

“Given the great number of wireless microphones used at the CMA Festival, as just one example, in addition to the thousands in constant operation throughout Nashville at its various concert and performance venues, the added burden of beacons, made necessary by this plan to protect the operation of equipment already owned and operating successfully, is outrageous and impractical,” the filing explained. Instead, the music interests say, the FCC should refocus its efforts on examining fixed systems with protected adjacent TV channels and other interference protections.

The Nashville group emphasized that wireless microphones are an essential element of the production facilities in virtually every concert hall, performance center, music festival and event in the city’s world-renowned venues, and that their wireless systems are carefully coordinated by extensive teams of experienced production engineers in order to achieve the high-quality professional live productions for which Nashville is known.