The Twisted Logic of NAB and MSTV - Now Locked
in Conflict with APCO and CTIA
Faithful readers will recall that we have talked a lot here about the saga of wireless microphone use in UHF-TV channels. While we have discussed that most wireless microphone use is illegal, we have also stated that "wireless mics are a legitimate use of spectrum (that) deserves more from FCC than benign neglect that allows most users only criminal spectrum squatting. (3/10/2008)
While CTIA and the cellular establishment were ignoring the wireless mic issue and seeing the TV whitespace docket (04-186) as a way to covet more spectrum and while the public safety establishment was asleep on this issue, concentrating on the D block, SpectrumTalk reported a year ago that FCC had still taken no action to evict legal, let alone illegal, wireless microphones from the 700 MHz band (TV channels 52-69) -- even as they were giving part of the band to public safety users for critical needs and auctioning off the rest for billions. (11/26/07)
Well, finally FCC woke up after the PISC petition/complaint. In August FCC released an NPRM/Order in Dockets 08-166 & 08-167 addressing the petition and announced (at long last) "that the Commission’s Enforcement Bureau has initiated an investigation relating to the marketing practices of various manufacturers of wireless microphones." (However, there is no visible sign of that investigation or its results.)
The order part of the NPRM/Order was amusing. It stated,
"In light of our tentative conclusion above not to permit the operation of low power auxiliary stations on 700 MHz Band frequencies (698-806 MHz) following the end of the DTV transition, we also find that continuing to accept new license applications for low power auxiliary station licenses that involve the operation of such stations on this spectrum after February 17, 2009 would impair the objectives that we are proposing in this proceeding." (para. 23)The problem here is that the vast majority of all users here are not licensed since their use is illegal. Therefore, stopping new licenses will have no impact. Indeed, it is unlikely that any new licenses are issued normally. There are only 156 current legal licenses in the whole country for wireless microphones and other low power auxiliary equipment in the 700 MHz band. (It is likely that many broadcaster wireless microphone operators who are eligible for licenses have never applied for them, why should they if no one else does?)
How did we get into this mess? The comments of Nady Systems, Inc. are both candid and informative (a refreshing change from their self serving competitor, Shure., Inc.):
There is an important moral here: when the Commission focuses its efforts almost entirely on petitions from major parties and ignores actual technical and market developments, its rules drift farther and farther away from reality. "Rule maintenance" is needed to prevent this, but that is not a sexy topic at FCC and gets little management attention. Focusing policy resources on "buying IBM" is less risky for managers at FCC. But technology and the communications market move at "Internet speed" while government regulations move at "government speed"."The FCC's Policy Toward Unlicensed Wireless Microphone Use Was
Tacit Allowance and Benign Neglect
Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. John Nady several times raised with FCC officials the question of whether FCC regulations needed changing so that the growing class of wireless microphone users who were ineligible to be licensed under the existing rules could become officially authorized. The officials told him that there is no need to change the licensing regulations - a cumbersome process - because since the FCC has not received complaints of wireless microphone interference with TV reception unlicensed use is not a problem. For over thirty years. the FCC has known about unlicensed wireless microphone use in the TV spectrum for purposes not authorized by regulation and has tacitly allowed that use to continue. For example, in opening up the 171-216 MHz TV spectrum to wireless microphones, the Commission noted '..the need for wireless microphones used in special events coverage and in dramatic presentationshaving a large number of performers:') The Commission stated: 'We are confident that groups other than broadcast licensees can use these frequencies responsibly. obtaining the benefits of such use while being aware of the interference possibilities associated with it.' In 1992. the Commission observed, 'commentators argue that experience with wireless microphones in the TV spectrum has shown that devices of this type end up being used by all sorts of people in places where they are not authorized by the rules')
The FCC's policy of benign neglect toward unlicensed wireless microphone use in the TV spectrum has allowed the wireless microphone industry to develop technologically, fill a market need, enabled prices to come down as a result of volume production and opened up the benefits of wireless microphones to professionals not limited to the TV radio-motion picture industry."
Which brings us to the 10/3/08 joint comments of MSTV and NAB. Having aligned themselves with Shure in Docket 04-186, MSTV/NAB continue to follow Shure's policy of protecting its lawless user base even though NAB usually advocates strict compliance with Title III licensing. The really twisted logic is at the very beginning of the comments, not hidden in the middle or an obscure footnote):
"MSTV and NAB propose that wireless microphone operation on a specific frequency and geographic area end upon the earlier of (1) sixty days prior to the date on which the 700 MHz wireless entrant intends to begin service, per a notice sent to the affected wireless microphone licensees, or (2) February 2012.Questions for MSTV/NAB: As has been said repeatedly in both 04-186 and 08-166/7, without any contradiction at all in the public record, the vast majority of wireless microphone users are unlicensed and not eligible for licenses. Indeed, they are in criminal violation of 47 U.S.C. 301. No one knows who they are or where they are. (In the past NAB has opposed expanding Part 74 eligibility so NAB is not exactly an innocent party here.) So how does the public safety licensee or auction winner find these people to give them 60 day notice to vacate?
Under the plan proposed by MSTV and NAB, any commercial wireless or public safety licensee will be able to ensure that its frequency is cleared of wireless microphone use prior to beginning service — even if that date of first service is February 17, 2009." (emphasis added)
But MSTV/NAB are not just worried about the illegal users. They add,
"Adoption of such a short timeframe for licensed wireless microphones to transition to other bands inevitably will result in service disruptions. Re-tuning equipment to cease operation in the 700 MHz band will cost on average $50,000 to $75,000 per station. Stations’ budgets, which already have been completed for the year, do not account for this expense; station resources have been allocated to complete the digital television transition. Even if stations could afford to purchase new equipment to operate in different bands in such a short timeframe, manufacturers may not be able to meet the unexpected demand. Of course, a significant increase in demand is also likely to add to the cost of obtaining new or re-tuned equipment."Dane Ericksen, a former FCC enforcement official and prominent broadcast consultant, blasts away all the MSTV/NAB arguments (as well as the wireless mic interests') in his reply comments. ( Guess no more consulting work for him from MSTV or NAB. They are both reputed to demand "loyalty" from their consultants.)
Did not MSTV/NAB members, of all people, know that the DTV transition was coming? Had they read about the 700 MHz auction? Even their favorite magazine, Broadcasting & Cable, wrote about the 700 MHz auction!
Are MSTV/NAB members paupers? Maybe NTIA should issue special coupons for low income broadcasters to subsidize their wireless mic replacements?
Please explain under your plan how "any commercial wireless or public safety licensee will be able to ensure that its frequency is cleared of wireless microphone use prior to beginning service — even if that date of first service is February 17, 2009."
We promise to post without editing, any reply from broadcasters and wireless mic interests (and others) as long as the wording is appropriate for current FCC broadcasting content limits. (Fleeting expletives OK.)
This 700 MHz issue has now become an "irresistible force/immovable object" topic as CTIA and APCO ("APCO urges the Commission to take aggressive steps to eliminate those nonconforming uses as quickly as possible") have staked out opposing positions. MSTV and NAB usually get their way at FCC in practice, but this time they may have "bitten off more than they can chew".