Mic Interests Coalition fires back at Wireless Innovation Act as a quick political fix

The Wireless Innovation Act of 2007 was officially rolled out yesterday by Senator Jay Inslee (D-WA). The act, which calls for opening up White Spaces spectrum to unlicensed devices, poses a threat to the wireless microphone and audio industry as well as over-the-air DTV reception. The Microphone Interests Coalition immediately fired back. “For existing services currently operating in the white spaces, like wireless microphones, the WIN Act shortchanges a serious, thoughtful, deliberate and engineering-based study and analysis at the FCC in favor of a quick political fix solely intended to benefit the financial interests of one industry.”

Specifically the legislation calls for the FCC to permit unlicensed, non-exclusive use of eligible frequencies between 54 MHz and 698 Mhz at the earliest technically feasible date, but not later than February 18, 2009. The legislation stipulates that those devices cannot interfere with incumbent licensees of such frequencies and must comply with existing Commission certification processes for new devices.

Inslee’s legislation says the FCC also may conduct interference testing as it deems necessary for the purpose of evaluating the potential for actual harmful interference to incumbent licensees of such frequencies.

MIC added in a statement that the WIN Act imposes an arbitrary and unreasonable timetable (180 days) or less (action by October 1, 2007) on the FCC to complete its study and analysis of interference issues related to the operation of unlicensed devices within the white spaces. The FCC process is, necessarily and appropriately so, a process that is rooted in science and engineering. Congress is ill-equipped to micromanage engineering studies and analysis that are being conducted by the experts at the FCC and in expert engineering industry committees.

Even more shocking to MIC is the call to “permit unlicensed devices to operate in the white spaces ‘at the earliest technically feasible date, but not later than February 18, 2009.

“This apparently means that if, on February 19, 2009, it is NOT technically feasible to operate the unlicensed devices safely in the band, the FCC is REQUIRED to turn a blind eye and allow the resulting interference chaos that is sure to follow,” says the MIC statement. “This makes absolutely no policy sense and is potentially very dangerous. Under this scenario, debilitating and immediate problems would face live productions across the country, including Broadway theater, Vegas shows, Nashville country acts, sporting events in all cities, political and corporate conventions, religious gatherings, music concerts, and many others.”

In addition, unclear definitions of “incumbent licensee” will also cause headaches.

“The WIN Act provides for the FCC to establish technical requirements to protect “incumbent licensees” from harmful interference,” says MIC. “Wireless microphones are, under the FCC Rules, considered ‘secondary licensees.’ Does the WIN Act’s reference to “incumbent licensees” include secondary licensees? If so, why doesn’t the language stipulate to protections for both primary and secondary licensees? Moreover, the FCC has, most recently, characterized wireless microphones as an “other authorized service” deserving of interference protection. Why doesn’t the WIN Act, as it does for other terms of art in other sections of the bill, define an “incumbent licensee” according to the FCC Notice of Proposed Rulemaking definition? If the intent of the legislation is truly to protect wireless microphones from interference, it would have been very simple to include one of these significant legal terms of art.
Finally, says MIC, what exactly is meant by protection from “harmful” interference? Is some interference acceptable at a Super Bowl? A Jimmy Buffett Concert? A Cirque du Soleil show? A Broadway production? A worship service? A live news report from a pending hurricane locale? If so, to what extent is interference acceptable?

The WIN Act requires unlicensed devices to submit themselves to the existing FCC certification process. The “existing certification” process is little more than a rubber stamp review of the compliance with technical rules that exist for all devices.

Compounding the problem, the WIN Act places artificial and unprecedented time restrictions (180) on even this barebones certification process, says MIC. More importantly, why does the WIN ACT shortchange the concept of independent laboratory and transparent field testing? Unlicensed devices must be tested against wireless microphone operations as they exist in real applications. If the unlicensed devices are going to truly avoid interference, as WIN Act advocates suggest, why not commit to open and observable independent laboratory and field testing as applied to wireless microphone operations and other existing TV band services?

The WIN Act requires the FCC to consider “unlicensed devices” as one extremely broad class of devices, including both fixed and portable devices. It is nearly universally accepted that fixed unlicensed device applications in the white spaces give rise to far less interference challenges than the portable device applications. Given this engineering reality, doesn’t it make sense to provide a “trial” period for the fixed applications before allowing the much more problematic (and potentially dangerous) personal/portable devices into the band? Shouldn’t Congress act cautiously by taking small steps towards a workable resolution rather than crush the existing users of the white spaces with the premature introduction of millions of new devices that could cause untold interference problems?