Actors wearing wireless microphones transmitting on frequencies that are soon to be compromised by consumer devices. Without publishing proposed rules and allowing public discourse, the FCC, pressured by leading technology firms, will vote on this issue on November 4, 2008: Election Day. The FCC’s own engineers’ report demonstrates that the technology in place to prevent interference is ineffective.

The Broadway League has asked the FCC to refrain from voting to approve new devices that will transmit in the “white space” radio spectrum, currently occupied by wireless microphones. Wireless microphones are an essential tool of the live performance industry, used in the daily operations of countless theatres and non-profit performance venues, sports arenas, and concert halls across the country.

These comments were filed in response to the FCC’s announcement that it will vote on an order potentially opening the white spaces to portable internet devices employing spectrum sensing technology intended to prevent interference with wireless microphones. However, a preliminary review of an FCC engineers’ report issued on October 15, 2008 demonstrates repeated failures of spectrum sensing to recognize wireless transmissions. While regulations that include reference to spectrum sensing technology would rely on unproven technology, the FCC may forge ahead and adopt new rules without allowing interested parties any prior opportunity to ensure the Commission took adequate steps to address the needs of all wireless microphone users.

Theatres in urban areas are at particular risk because the complex radio environment is beyond any measure of control. Not only is the quality of the performances at risk, but also the safety of all who work in these venues will be compromised. Accordingly, sound engineers will have no way to locate or report the source of interference should a portable device disrupt a live performance.

The Broadway League believes any action on this issue is premature. However, should the FCC go forward with new regulations at this time, they strongly urge the Commission to recognize incumbent white space users and, at the very minimum, employ basic protections to address the needs of Broadway. The Broadway League has been working with theatres across the country to help get the message to the FCC of the many consequences of a hasty decision. This week it also reached out to the Commission with an ad campaign (see attached) to help bring attention to the serious situation this premature vote creates.

The New York City Council recently adopted a Resolution urging the FCC to open a formal comment period on its engineers’ report before putting the issue to a vote and to allocate sufficient channels for current wireless microphone users.

Representative Carolyn B. Maloney echoed the City Council’s sentiments and said, “The FCC should not be trying to rush this decision out the door this way in the closing days of this administration without adequate public comment. This action puts the theatre industry at risk.”

Nina Lannan, chairman of The Broadway League, comments, “Broadway contributes more than $5 billion to the City of New York and generates the equivalent of 44,000 full time jobs. We must be assured that these devices work, not only for Broadway, but also for theatres across America too. Touring Broadway productions help infuse the nation’s economy with over $3 billion annually. “

Tom Viertel, producer, states, “Our industry relies on clear, consistent wireless microphone transmissions. The Broadway Unions and Guilds have joined forces with us to demand notice and opportunity to be heard before any further FCC proceedings because our jobs and lives are on the line. Many groups, including the National Association of Broadcasters and Sports Technology Alliance, also oppose the FCC’s actions which threaten their ability to conduct businesses and employees’ livelihoods.”

The Broadway League, founded in 1930, is the national trade association for the Broadway industry. The League’s 600-plus members include theatre owners and operators, producers, presenters, and general managers in over 240 North American cities, as well as suppliers of goods and services to the theatre industry. Each year, League members bring Broadway to nearly 30 million people in New York and on tour across the US and Canada.