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Scared about wireless? At Hearken Creative, we are.

Digital TV begins in February 2009. A little-known side-effect of the switch from analog to digital television signals is the fact that VHF and UHF bandwidth that historically has been used for wireless microphones (in churches, theaters, and movie sets) is now being auctioned off for use by commercial companies, namely, television stations and wireless telephone providers. What does this mean for those of us who use wireless microphones everyday on movie sets? Shure Microphones says this:

Wireless microphones may continue to operate on all of these frequencies, just as they do now. However, wireless microphones that operate on frequencies above 698 MHz should not be used after February 19, 2009…

Users who experience interference from DTV will notice the same performance issues caused by other forms of interference, namely increased signal dropouts, decreased operating range, and undesired noises. Wireless microphones that are used indoors, with line-of-sight between transmitter and receiver, may operate normally depending on the strength of the interfering signal. Wireless microphone users who do experience interference (whether from a DTV station or another user) have the same option that has always been available: change the operating frequency of the wireless system. Frequency-agile systems can be retuned by the user; fixed-frequency systems, depending on their age, can be reworked by Shure”s Service Department at moderate cost.

Mark Ulano, a prominent award-winning production sound mixer, says it’s a “train wreck waiting to happen”:

Wireless microphones are so pervasive throughout society — in our work, but also in theaters, high schools, churches — and there’s been such a lack of responsibility on the part of government and its focus on allocation in terms of actual usage as opposed to auctioning bandwidth off as purely whoever is the highest bidder. Australia doesn’t do that. They look at how the market’s using bandwidth, and then they allocate based on need. We’re going to have a train wreck here because that has not happened. The motion-picture industry is very high-profile, but it’s infinitesimal as an economic entity compared to the telecom industry. So we’re in this conundrum. It’s like the rainbow. You’re not going to add more colors to the rainbow. It is a problem, and we’re waiting with bated breath to see how it turns out.

Fortunately, all of Hearken Creative’s wireless mics are outside of the spectrum that is being auctioned off. But the precedent is disturbing, and will disrupt many productions going on throughout the country when February 2009 rolls around.

What should government have done differently? What might happen next? Can the government auction off more bandwidth, essentially diminishing the open airwaves that can be used for legitimate, legal wireless use?

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