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FCC Proposes Wireless Microphone Ban To Boost 'White Spaces'

The microphones at issue have generally produced little or no complaints because their signals have traditionally been programmed to avoid TV channels.

In an attempt to help clear the way for usage of the "white spaces" spectrum, the FCC is proposing to ban some wireless microphones that could interfere with the spectrum that is coveted for use by Google, Microsoft, Motorola, and other technology companies.

In a notice posted on the FCC Web site Thursday, the FCC proposed prohibiting certain wireless microphones and other low-power devices from operating in the 700-MHz band after the digital TV transition in February. Wireless microphones are often used by performers and businesses to allow presenters to move about freely.

The microphones at issue have generally produced little or no complaints because their signals have traditionally been programmed to avoid TV channels. All that, however, could change with the big TV switchover in February when the 700-MHz spectrum (currently channels 52 through 69 in the UHF television band) is scheduled to be vacated by TV transmissions to make way for new usage by cell phone service providers. The microphones and some other low-power devices have been in limbo and the FCC order seems designed to clarify the situation.

At the same time, the FCC has been monitoring a series of tests, primarily in the greater Washington, D.C., area to determine whether there are interference problems associated with usage of the white spaces spectrum.

The FCC notice said the ban "would ensure that low power auxiliary operations do not cause harmful interference to new public safety and commercial wireless services in the band."

With most of the 700-MHz spectrum captured by AT&T and Verizon Wireless in the FCC's 700-MHz auction earlier this year, alternate providers led by Google have campaigned for use of the so-called white spaces spectrum that exists alongside the 700-MHz spectrum. Companies opposed to the use of the spectrum maintain that it would cause interference to entities using nearby spectrum.

Attempts to certify the white spaces spectrum have so far been inconclusive, with Motorola claiming its tests demonstrate that the spectrum would be useful and interference-free at least in some circumstances. One major supporter of the white spaces -- Microsoft -- stopped testing white spaces devices after unsuccessful tests, although the software giant still favors use of the technology.

In its notice, the FCC cited a filing by the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition (PISC), which has claimed that certain manufacturers of wireless microphones "have violated the Commission's rules by marketing and selling equipment limited by Commission rule..." The FCC said it is seeking comment on the PISC charges.

The FCC said it is "tentatively" concluding to stop operate of certain wireless microphones and other low power devices as well as to prohibit the future manufacture and sale of them for use in the 700-MHz band.

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