FCC White-Spaces Ruling Is a Win for Sports Broadcasters

The FCC’s unanimously adopted Second Memorandum Opinion and Order on TV White Spaces opens a new door for wireless data-based services for consumers across the country and, more important, closes the door on many potential concerns of professional wireless-microphone users.

How? When the concept of allowing unlicensed consumer devices to reside within White Spaces, or unused channels, and TV spectrum became a gleam in the FCC’s eye, the concern was that the spectrum would become the equivalent of a Wild West town that lacked a sheriff. Consumers would be firing up mobile devices that were sharing spectrum with professional wireless-microphone users, causing interference and rendering the mics unreliable. But it appears that, with the help of hours of presentations, phone calls, and meetings with the FCC, the professional-wireless community was heard.

“There is no doubt that the Sports Video Group and its members were a critical part of the FCC’s gaining an understanding of the importance wireless microphones play in televised sports,” says Mark Brunner, senior director of public and industry relations for Shure.

In terms of specific protections for professional users, two TV channels will be reserved nationwide for wireless microphones, which the commission expects will permit 12-16 wireless mics in any location (more-advanced wireless systems will be able to pack upwards of 25 mics into the spectrum). The commission believes that these channels, when combined with those unavailable to TV-band White Spaces devices (those channels occupied by or adjacent to broadcast-television stations), will provide ample protected spectrum for the vast majority of wireless microphones and other incumbent uses.

“The reason that is important,” says Brunner, “is it eliminates 90% of the productions that rely on wireless microphones from future conversations.

For example, there is still much work to be done with respect to a database that will enable major events — sporting events, Broadway-theater events, political conventions, concerts — to protect additional frequencies for wireless needs. If a wireless-microphone user needs more spectrum than is available in the reserved channels combined with the channels blocked to protect broadcast stations, it may register its uses in the database. This registration will require proof that the available channels are insufficient for its needs and must be submitted to the commission far enough in advance to permit public notice and comment.

Joe Ciaudelli, Sennheiser director of market development and education, says that unlicensed users operating in venues can also apply at least 30 days in advance of an event. “We do hope the FCC builds a system that will be easy to operate and highly responsive to legitimate requests,” he adds.

White Spaces devices will then consult the TV-band databases to determine which frequencies are available for their use. Because the current plan solves 90% of the market’s needs, discussions and debate over how that database should be maintained, who will maintain it, and how it can realistically function will be much easier and less complex.

“The database now will be for large-scale productions, like concerts, political conventions, and sporting events,” adds Brunner.

And, while the FCC order may inspire some complacency among sports broadcasters and leagues, he says, it is incumbent upon all interested parties — in particular, sports leagues and networks involved with professional and major collegiate athletic events —  to get involved with the database proposals.

The FCC is moving quickly on the database issue, and the goal is to hammer out a plan within a few months so that consumer-electronics manufacturers can begin developing devices, which will then be tested by the FCC (yet another area where interested parties will want to ensure that their voices are heard).