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Time to clear up a little piece of unfinished business for which we at Public Knowledge can claim some modest responsibility. The FCC finally issued it's long awaited Order on wireless microphones stemming from among other things) this blog post and the subsequent complaint/Petition for Rulemaking by the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition (to which a special shout out to the folks at New America Wireless Future is due, given the fantastic amount of work they did on assembling evidence and helping draft the document).
As one can tell from this FCC press release describing the details, we pretty much got what we wanted -- although not entirely and not in the way we expected. But, as I noted in this press statement we're very happy with how things turned out. Briefly: (a) all wireless mic users are now granted legal status, this is done pursuant to the FCC's Part 15 rules for unlicensed rather than the "license by rule" that we suggested, but my only regret about that is I didn't think of it when we filed. (b) Everyone using wireless microphones needs to clear out of the 700 MHz band by Jun 12, 2010 -- one year after the DTV transition and 15 months after the original date proposed by the FCC. Given how the Broadway people have been telling the FCC for months how they are off the 700 MHz band, this should not be too much of a hardship -- especially for those who had no right to be there in the first place. (c) The FCC will invest a boatload of its own resources, and gin up the FCC 2.0 machinery, to get the word out to folks and help consumers, churches, etc. handle the transition. (d) The FCC will require that wireless microphones have signs and labels going forward to make sure that people understand the difference between licensed users and unlicensed users.
In addition, the FCC is having a further notice of proposed rulemaking that will: 1) Set the rules for the new Part 15 unlicensed wireless microphones. 2) Will examine whether to expand the class of Part 74 Subpart H eligible licensees to see if they should expand the class to give interference protection to some set of users -- which would include who gets to be in the database of licensed services protected from operation of TV white spaces devices.
Yeah, that kicks the can down the road rather than saying flat out "anyone who was using a wireless microphone illegally is not entitled to protection against the TV white spaces devices, which went through the legal process and got approved." But I can most definitely live with that. For one thing, I am confident that in an evidence-driven FCC which places consumer interests first, as demonstrated by this Order with its unprecedented investment of FCC resources for outreach (which we had not even dreamed of requesting except in the most general way of offering to help), will focus on the real question of whether or not there is interference and if so how to strike the appropriate balance between allowing new technologies and protecting existing users. Hopefully, this will inspire white spaces opponents to focus on engineering rather than trying to use scare tactics and celebrity "star power".
As Chairman Genachowski said in his statement on the Order, what's important here is finding new ways to develop wireless broadband while also protecting vital consumer interests. We at PK believe we can do both, and find a balance in the spectrum for all the uses. As we keep saying, we need to stop thinking of spectrum as a winner take all game and start thinking about how we can change how we use spectrum in a pragmatic, sustainable way that accommodates all the rapidly growing uses as best we can. This Order and the further notice move us in the right direction. We look forward to working with everyone else to keep us moving.