In 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auctioned off most of the 700MHz (megahertz) wireless transmission band. This action was highly publicized as it was part of the “transition to digital” for broadcast television, but it also impacted wireless microphones transmitting in that frequency range. At that time, word spread quickly that wireless microphone users not in compliance would need to replace their systems or face legal consequences.
In 2017, the FCC initiated a similar auction, this time focusing on the 614-698 MHz range. Any device (microphone, in-ear monitor or other wireless device) that can be tuned to this range will need to be taken out of operation. The final date of compliance is July 13, 2020. However, some of the purchasers of the newly available frequencies have already started to move into the market, the effects of which will readily become evident.
It is important to remember that only one wireless device can function on a frequency at a time. If your microphone transmits on a frequency of 625.500MHz, nothing else can function on that frequency. Higher-end wireless microphone systems are able to accommodate many devices within a very narrow transmission band but for the most part, devices typically found in schools need a bit more broadcast “real estate” to function well. Your broadcast frequency should be visible on the front of the receiver or in the owner’s manual.
A door opened for continued use of existing equipment with the creation of a “geo-location database,” where entities such as theatres, performing arts centers, audio companies, motion picture companies and the like could apply a Part 74 license and gain inclusion and inherent protection of their frequencies for specific requested calendar dates. However, the FCC has set a 50 device minimum for inclusion in the database. Most schools fall far short of this minimum and, consequently, would enjoy no such protections.
In 2017, the FCC issued a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that proposed to expand Part 74 license eligibility to include persons and organizations that can demonstrate the need for professional, high-quality audio and have the capability of providing it through conscientious use of wireless microphones. However, it’s unclear how and when the FCC will rule on this proposal.
So, what are schools to do? Unfortunately, they cannot do much except comply. Remember, failure to comply leaves you open to legal action.
To ease the pain of replacing existing, non-compliant systems, major wireless microphone manufacturers are offering scalable rebates on those systems when traded in for a new system. The rebates may take away some of the financial sting associated with compliance, but such rebates expire at varying dates.
For more information, contact your audio dealer/installer or the companies listed directly.
Dana W. Taylor has spent more than 25 years teaching technical theatre at the Mt. Vernon Senior High School Fine Arts Academy in Mt. Vernon, Indiana. He served 10 years as technical editor for Dramatics Magazine and Teaching Theatre Journal, and he is also technical editor for “Basic Drama Projects” (9th Edition) and “Concert Lighting: Techniques, Art and Business” (4th Edition). He has received the Founder’s Award from the Educational Theatre Association, and he was the first high school educator to receive the United States Institute for Theatre Technology’s Distinguished Achievement Award for Education.