The Hidden Dangers of the DTV Transition:

Is Your Company Prepared or Ready to Face the Consequences?
3 Things You MUST Know Before February 17, 2009!

By now, everyone’s heard about the DTV changeover on February 17th. You may have bought new TVs for your house, added cable or satellite TV upgrades, or installed converter boxes for yourself or family members. However, there’s a lot more happening on February 17th that isn’t featured in celebrity commercials and government public service announcements, and not knowing about these happenings could reduce your company’s productivity, cost a lot of money, result in legal charges, and even potentially cause death and chaos!

WHAT?!

You’re probably thinking, “She’s crazy! If something that dire were going to occur, the government would stop it, right? Or at least blanket the nation with information about it, right?” Well, not really. The fact is, the government passed the DTV transition rules and related mandates with little thought for its impact on a key technology used from Broadway to Hollywood and in nearly every school, church and boardroom in between. Let’s start at the very beginning, shall we?

MUST-KNOW #1 – The Background

As early as 1995, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) began reallocating certain frequency bands of the wireless spectrum to other uses. Their ultimate goal: to transition all television broadcasts in the United States to a digital format and free up swaths of the wireless spectrum for other commercial uses. In the years since, digital television became more widespread and the FCC drew up a master plan for phasing out analog broadcasts. They redesigned the layout of the new spectrum and freed an entire band of the spectrum which was auctioned off in March of 2008.

What the FCC did not take into account was the widespread use of licensed and unlicensed devices that operated in the “white spaces” – the frequencies between the channels on the RF spectrum (also known as the UHF band). These devices included such technologies as medical devices, public safety and emergency communications equipment, and – most important for businesses,churches and schools – wireless microphones. For two decades, all of these ‘white space devices’ co-existed with the analog television broadcasts, with little interference or concern.

However, the DTV conversion and auctioning off of certain frequencies has opened the wireless spectrum to an entire new host of devices vying for bandwidth – cell phones, bluetooth devices, wi-fi and an entire class of new ‘white space devices’ not yet on the market. Additionally, chunks of spectrum have been set aside exclusively for the use of public safety and the government. So what does all this mean to you and your company?

MUST-KNOW #2 – The Ramifications

First, to keep your productivity up and downtime minimized, you need to know where your company currently stands – you need to know what wireless microphones and devices are used in your company and for what purposes. If you don’t know this, you can lose a lot of valuable work time when your mics and other devices don’t work, or work poorly. So, check your assets. Are they fixed frequency devices or frequency agile? How old are they and how long have they been in use? These are vitally important questions, and you’d best know the answers!

Last March, the FCC auctioned off the 700 MHz band. Within a few years, this spectrum will be full of all sorts of new gadgets and gizmos. Okay, so that’s a few years off. Why should we worry now? Because, effective February 17, 2009, when the DTV changeover occurs, using wireless microphones and other devices in the 700 MHz band will be illegal. That’s right, ILLEGAL. The bulk of that frequency now belongs to private companies and is no longer free for use. Does this mean that the FCC or these corporations are going to have mobile units on the road, scanning for illegal usage of their frequencies. In truth, probably not. But there will be legal consequences if you ARE caught using them. Criminal charges, large fines, huge headaches. Even worse, however, is the potential human cost.

Yes, we’re back to death and chaos. How on earth can using a wireless mic for a board meeting or worship service cause death and chaos? Let me tell you. As a condition of auctioning off the 700MHz band was the allocation of a portion of that band to Homeland Security and public safety. That’s fire departments, ambulances, hospitals, med-evac choppers and every other emergency responder that protects our lives, our homes and our nation. It is vitally important that their communications devices work accurately and immediately. The very first time that someone dies as a result of wireless mic or device interference on that frequency, you can bet the FCC will dispatch mobile units to crack down!

MUST-KNOW #3 – The Action Plan

So, now you know about the hidden ‘white spaces’ issue that goes hand in hand with the DTV transition, and you know about some of the pit-falls your company faces as a result. Now what? It’s little more than a month away from D-Day – the February 17th deadline. What do we do??

First off, in the words of the late Douglas Adams, “Don’t Panic!” Start by calmly educating yourself about the microphone and device frequencies currently in use at your company. As long as none of them fall in the 700 MHz frequency, you will have minimal problems, if any. If you have some currently operating in the 700 MHz frequency, you will need to take care of that. If they are frequency agile units, you can simply set the units to a new ‘safe’ frequency. Otherwise, you will have to replace them.

Now, here’s some good news! There is at least one major microphone manufacturer offering a buy-back rebate on new wireless microphone systems to replace the 700 MHz series mics. By turning in a 700 MHz microphone system, you can get up to $1000.00 off a new, legal system! In some cases, the turned-in mics don’t even need to be from that manufacturer! To take advantage of this great offer, you should contact your local A/V integrator.

What’s that? You don’t currently have an A/V integrator? No worries, just check back here! I’ll be posting a How-To on selecting a qualified A/V integration firm very soon. In the mean time, check with Infocomm International or NSCA for a qualified A/V integrator near you. Or, if you’re in the Mid-Atlantic region (MD-DC-NoVA), contact Advanced Video Systems. We’d be glad to help you out!

Leave a Comment