Is This Thing On?

A new FCC rule has microphone users scrambling to modify systems

It’s been a rough run for churches dependent on struggling parishioners. So news that The Lakes Lutheran Church is among the 30 percent of wireless microphone users nationwide who’ll have to modify or abandon their systems by June 12 to comply with a new Federal Communications Commission law was less than welcome for Pastor Kurt Sortland.

“The FCC’s new regulation will take out both our wireless microphones,” Sortland says about a ban on equipment that broadcasts using the 700 MHz frequency.

The 210 regulars at the West Sahara Avenue parish would need to come up with $800 to replace the church’s two wireless systems.

Microphones operating on the 700 MHz band, which are commonly used by schools, large-group speakers and staged productions, were designed to use airwaves between those licensed to broadcast analog TV. But with the transition to digital last June, TV stations no longer use that band.

The FCC set roughly a quarter of that spectrum aside for public safety, spokesman Matt Nodine says, with innovative tools in the works to help public safety agencies communicate, or help firefighters access schematics for burning buildings while en route.

Verizon Wireless and AT&T also bought portions of the band at auction to accommodate 4G wireless devices. The FCC auctioned the band to mobile voice and broadband users in early 2008, but it didn’t approve the formal order banning the 700 MHz microphones until January, creating a six-month window to the June 12 deadline.

To stage Broadway productions such as Chicago or Mamma Mia!, theaters may have to absorb up to $100,000 in upgrades to their wireless microphone systems, Bloomberg News reports.

Some unlicensed users are already reporting interference with their 700 MHz mikes, bringing equipment to their local store for repair only to learn it’s illegal for manufacturers to touch the stuff—even if it’s still under warranty.

Nodine said the FCC has done everything it can—including sending letters, posting notices on its website and meeting personally with some agencies—to prepare people for this switch. Still, Doug Wolbach, technical director at Northwest Community Church, wasn’t aware of the new law until contacted by Vegas Seven.

After reviewing the policy, Wolbach learned the system at his South Rancho Drive church will need to be revamped.

“We’ll be investing about $200 in order to comply with the new regulations,” Wolbach says. “While not a back-breaker, it’s money that could be better used somewhere else.”

Although the issue may seem minor, it’s not something to ignore. Violators could face criminal charges if the banned equipment interferes with rescuers during an emergency. Nodine says civil fines will be assessed on a case-by-case basis but likely will be “tens of thousands of dollars.”

While the FCC isn’t providing financial assistance for unlicensed users to make the switch, many manufacturers are offering rebate programs.

“There may be clear reasons why this change was necessary,” Sortland says. “However, it appears [the FCC] feels no remorse in the consequences of its decision. The only happy party is the electronics industry.”

For a complete list of equipment banned under the new law and links to manufacturer sites for rebate information, visit