Donovan calls on sports leagues to take on DC legislators

By Ken Kerschbaumer
MSTV President David Donovan called on sports leagues and broadcasters to actively battle a government proposal to allow consumer wireless devices to be used in spectrum currently only used by broadcasters and industry wireless professionals.

“It is incumbent on the people in this room and, more importantly, the people you work for and with, to get into the loop and into Washington,” he said at the first annual Sports Video Group “RF Management Challenge” seminar. “[Wireless technology] is the backbone of the broadcast industry and, in many respects, it’s the backbone of what Americans’ see and do on a regular basis.”

The bill Donovan is looking to combat is S.2686, otherwise known as the “Communications, Consumers’ Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006.” It’s a broad communication bill covering a number of issues and within it is the Wireless Innovations Act, provision 601 and 602. “Those provisions would authorize unlicensed devices to be used in the TV band within 270 days,” said Donovan.

Donovan, who gave the keynote address at the event, was joined by more than 50 wireless industry and broadcast sports and news professionals to discuss the implications of the pending legislation. With the Senate Commerce Committee currently debating the bill Donovan and others said the time is now. “We need to get the people that really pay the bills, that really have the money, that have the political clout, to do the work for us,” said Larry Estrin, RF consultant who is currently working for Audio-Technica.

The impending crisis concerns “White Space” spectrum that exists between TV channels to prevent TV transmission signal interference (for example, in New York City channel 3 serves as a “white space” between channels 2 and 4). The proposed provisions would turn that spectrum over to public use in the interest of expanding wireless broadband to rural areas. But the spectrum is currently not vacant and is, instead, used by those in the professional wireless audio industry.

“Proponents of unlicensed devices count the first adjacent channel that are operating next to television stations as being vacant, when we all know that they are not,” said Donovan. “That’s where licensed wireless mics operate, so proponents discount their existence in determining whether a channel is open or not.”

Rural broadband has become a national priority, added Donovan, but rural broadband is only one minor component of the bill. “What this bill does is authorize the deployment of all kinds of devices into the TV band in all markets. A $29 dollar toy could interfere with a $1000 TV set, or your coverage of a sporting event.”

Panelists and attendees at the event made it clear that problems loom if the situation doesn’t change. “If you can’t rely on wireless systems, something is going to have to change in the way we do our productions,” said Lou Libin, who consults with CBS, ABC and others in the sports industry. “We haven’t been giving the message well enough to the production people.”

Libin and others recommended that sports broadcasters and leagues invite members of the Senate and FCC out to a live TV sporting event to see how much they rely on wireless devices. “Washington really has no clue,” he said. “We’re not fighting on an even playing field – we’re being hit because people don’t even understand what we’re doing.”

“The bottom line is for the first time in history we are putting unlicensed devices in a licensed band and there is no statutory requirement for testing,” said Donovan. “ What are we left with? We’re left with post-hoc enforcement. And once the devices are in the hands of consumers there is no way to reclaim them.”

Edgar Reihl, Shure director of technology, said a post-hoc approach wouldn’t cut it. “Wireless microphones determine the quality of the sound that ultimately your viewers will hear. Once the damage is done, it’s done–there’s no chance to redo a live event. So after the fact enforcement is not going to solve your problem. One interfering device coming into the band can upset your entire coordination plan.”

Coming tomorrow: Can technology solutions overcome flawed legislation?

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