Future of wireless audio/video at mercy of Senate Commerce subcommittee

By Ken Kerschbaumer
The U.S. Senate Commerce subcommittee met on Thursday afternoon for full committee markup of S.2686, the Communications, Consumers Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006. After an afternoon of hashing out various provisions in the bill it agreed to reconvene again next Tuesday to hash out which amendments will be attached to the Communications, Consumers Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006, before the bill goes to the Senate floor.

Among the provisions? Numbers 601 and 602 that will allow for unlicensed devices to be used within White Spaces spectrum which the professional audio and video industry rely on.

Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK)Stevens is among the champions of the bill which includes a provision to allow consumers to use White Spaces spectrum for wireless transmission. The goal of the legislation, says Stevens, is to make it easier for companies to offer broadband services to consumers. “Allowing unlicensed operations in the broadcast band could play a significant role in bringing wireless broadband and home networking to more of our citizens by lowering costs, particularly in Alaska where connectivity is so important due to our remoteness,” he says.

But the provision chills those in the professional audio and video industry to the bone. With unlicensed devices running wild in spectrum currently set aside for licensed users the potential for interference would render wireless audio and video for the TV industry and coaching communications useless.

The very definition of white spaces are empty channels in the public airwaves than are reserved for TV use, says Lou Libin, RF expert and president and CEO of Broad Comm. And now the FCC wants to allow more users, which are unenforceable users, to be allowed in that spectrum.

Libin says the government is over looking the importance of wireless audio and video transmission to not only help cover golf tournaments but also traffic accidents or other incidents. Broadcasters need spectrum that works, he says. We re not like the guys who deliver the soda and beer to the stadium who can share spectrum.

By making wireless microphones and cameras susceptible to interference from unlicensed devices the legislation will bring the wireless industry to a standstill as it searches for possible solutions. In addition, current wireless devices would potentially be rendered obsolete in 2009.

Part of the problem, says Libin, is that in the past the broadcast industry would be able to solve any challenge government legislation imposed. But that is no longer the case.

We re reaching the limits of physics and a point where you want to use wireless mics or video for events like a golf tournament. Stringing cables is going backwards, not forwards.

James Stoffo, an RF consultant who coordinates frequencies at the Super Bowl, NBA Finals and other live events, concurs. We ll digress 40 or 50 years in technology, back to the wired mics and communications devices, he says. Wireless mics would become unusable and major events will be very difficult.

Libin says the government has to do something for broadcasters to ensure the future of sports, news and other live event broadcasts. They need to give us a special allocation for wireless mics in each market so that we can deal with events, he says.

Jay Gerber, manager of the NFL Frequency Organization Group, mixing a new group of unprofessional wireless users with professional licensed operators without any consideration to those already operating in the spectrum creates a massive mess.

Because they ll be unlicensed we won t have any concept or idea about who is interfering or how they re interfering, says Gerber. We won t be able to contact them [to stop the interference.

There are certain aspects of the proposed legislation that Gerber finds ridiculous. If you experience interference from an unlicensed user you re supposed to file a report within 30 days to the FCC which will then begin a research project and decide what happens, he says. That s not the kind of legislation that protects events and leads to resolution.