We File Wireless Microphone Complaint: Shure Says Breaking Law Should Be OK If You Sound Good.

As regular readers will know, among my many wireless fixations are the use of the broadcast white spaces and the 700 MHz auction. So what happens when I get to combine the two together?

Answer: A 50 page complaint and Petition for Rulemaking, another 175 pages of evidence that Shure and other manufacturers have been marketing wireless microphones in violation of FCC rules, then using the victims of this deceptive marketing scam as “human shields” in the white spaces debate, and a possible road map toward solving the potential for massive interference with new public safety and wireless services operating on the returned UHF bands. As a side benefit, it also provides a route to authorization for the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of illegal wireless microphones, finds a use for that leftover 5 MHZ band in the AWS-2/AWS-3 proceeding (waste not want not), and potentially changes the debate in the white spaces fight by getting the goddamn fact that the overwhelming majority of wireless microphones are (at the moment) used illegally out in the open so people can have a rational discussion about interference protection.

Oh yeah, and it will require the wireless microphone manufacturers to clean up the mess by exchanging the old, unauthorized equipment for new equipment that doesn’t work on Channels 52-69. I love a plan that only punishes the guilty rather than letting the wireless microphone guys reap yet another windfall by requiring the unauthorized users to pay for their own equipment replacement.

And what was Shure’s response to the complaint? According to the Associated Press, Shure did not deny breaking the law. Instead, they said: “today’s uses of wireless microphones provide a valuable and irreplaceable public good, regardless of the licensing scheme.”

Or, in other words, “yeah, we broke the law — but it doesn’t matter because we will use Broadway and churches as human shields if you try to go after us” (insert international gesture of respect performed with raised middle finger at FCC).

You can see the press release here, and get copies of our complaint/Petition here. (Links to the Exhibits are on the press page.) You can see a bit more analysis from yr hmbl obdn’t below….

God knows, I would never have imagined just how many wireless microphone systems were out there if the FCC didn’t keep getting this endless series of filings confessing to felonies. And I will certainly admit that it offends my delicate lawyer sensibilities to see Shure parading folks before the Commission — going ‘ha ha, we’re committing a felony and you can’t do squat!’ Heck, Shure has gotten members of Congress to bombard the FCC with letters that translate to “you must protect radio pirates at the expense of giving broadband to rural folks and poor folks in bad neighborhoods.” Why shouldn’t Shure parade around like it had an absolute right to demand protection for radio pirates.

And, I will confess, after what the NAB did in the low-power FM legislation. How they demanded that Congress ban anyone who ever operated a pirate radio station from getting an LPFM license — even if there was never any conviction — on the grounds that rules are rules and respect for law and blah blah blah. But, when politically convenient, they couldn’t wait to embrace unauthorized wireless microphone users to their hypocritical bosom. But my personal ire is not a good reason to file a complaint and Petition.

No, the final straw was when I realized that this was creating a serious problem for the upcoming 700 MHz licensees. Leaving aside that I would like public safety systems to work reliably, the thought that Shure systems could potentially mess with C Block open systems pissed me off no end. It would be just our luck to finally get open systems on VZ, only to have sporadic interference from unauthorized wireless microphones. “Wow,” VZ and the other licensees would rush to say. “Open source devices aren’t reliable. Better not force us to do wireless Carterfone or open our networks! Look what happened here.”

That was intolerable.

So I drafted the complaint/Petition, with the help of the good folks at PISC. The recommendations boil down to:

1) Stop manufacturing and selling wireless devices that operate on Channels 52-69.

2) Fix the loophole I blogged about earlier and make authorized wireless microphone users secondary to public safety and the new commercial 700 MHz users.

3) Provide a “pathway to citizenship” for illegal users by granting a general amnesty to all the wireless microphone users and create a new “General Wireless Microphone Service” that will operate below Channels 52-69. The GWMS will be secondary to full power licensed users, licensed wireless microphone users under Part 74, Subpart H, and will be co-equal with any unlicensed users authorized in Docket No. 04-186 (the white spaces proceeding). Because, bluntly, while there is no way to prosecute the 500,000+ illegal users, the FCC should treat not reward these “undocumented licensees” by giving them preference over devices properly authorized, that played by the rules, followed proper procedures, etc.

4) Take the 2020-2025 MHz channel left over in the AWS-2/AWS-3 reshuffle (assuming the Commission adopts current pending proposal) and give it to the GWMS on a primary basis, so if they really worry about interference from white spaces devices (a claim of which I remain highly suspicious, as there is not the slightest shred of evidence that white spaces devices would interfere with wireless microphones) they have somewhere else to go.

5) Make the wireless microphone manufacturers, whose marketing practices created this mess, clean this up by exchanging old equipment for new equipment that does not work on Channels 52-69.

So, not only do we save Broadway’s ungrateful sorry rear-end, we get them (and everyone else who got suckered by Shure and Co.) free new upgraded systems. While I expect that Shure will try to spin this as an attack on their beloved human shields customers, it will be rather hard to explain how this is an attack when (a) we offer these unauthorized users a way out of pirate status to legal operation, and (b) we require Shure and co. to pay for it by exchanging illegal equipment for legal equipment.

I am also eager to see if NAB will support us in our effort to end radio piracy and make wireless microphone use legal — or if they will turn around and push hard to prevent authorization because they are hypocritical greedy piggies who would rather make their hypocrisies plain for all to see than admit that people can share the broadcast bands without interference.

And finally, perhaps we can actually have a rational debate about real threats of interference and sensible ways to mitigate them, rather than having Shure throw its weight around by suckering churches and theater groups into confessing to a felony and then daring the Commission to take action against the cuddly little users. Shure’s first cut reaction was to claim that it stopped selling these microphones (presumably the ones that operate on 52-69, since some of their marketing material to ineligible users is copyrighted 2008) and that silly old things like FCC licensing rules shouldn’t matter anyway, because our clients are cute and cuddly and make excellent human shields.

The beauty of my proposal is that it doesn’t blast the cuddly churches and the spiffy Broadway guys, but does smack Shure and friends up the side of the head like they deserve. It is so rare that one can come up with a solution that solves so many problems and requires only the guilty to pay for it. Gives me a very pleasant sense of job satisfaction — regardless of whether the FCC actually acts on our filing or not.

Stay tuned . . . .


  1. Re: PISC Informal Complaint and Petition for Rulemaking.

    First of all, truly a very comprehensive and astute legal treatise. I found it very informative and quite sensible from the legal and policy standpoint, and even agree with most of the proposed rules. I firmly believe that spectrum winners should have exclusive rights to the spectrum they paid billions for and spend billions more to build and operate infrastructure. Further, I also believe there should be no Part 74 BAS operations is dedicated (unshared) PS spectrum as a matter of policy.

    However, it’s too bad the engineering concepts, and an understanding of the logisitics of Part 74 BAS device use in production environments don’t come anywhere close to the same level of competency as the legal arguments.

    So, let’s look at some of the PISC “technical” points . . .

    1) “. . . to prevent interference with public safety and commercial systems licensed to operate in the
    bands currently allocated to channels 52-69 . . .”

    I don’t know how this was arrived at (do you have any tests, studies or complaints of a similar nature you could cite?) but to believe that a low power narrowband Part 74 BAS device, or even a cluster of devices as would be found in a large scale production could pose a significant interference potential to broadband data devices (future WSD’s and PS data terminals) or high power narrowband communications (PS 700MHz two-way radio equipment), indicates no understanding (okay, maybe just enough to be dangerous) of RF propagation, free space path loss, body absorption, receive selectivity, digital transmission characteristics, digital receive decoding, FM transmission and reception principles, relative power level desense, high density Part 74 BAS device frequency coordination practices, channel bandwidth/guardband requirements, PS radio system architectures or PS radio practices.

    Is it possible a PS person’s radio could experience interference from a Part 74 device if in a fringe area? Sure; “anything” is possible. But if that EMS tech, police officer or fire fighter is truly in a fringe area with respect to his base station operations and with no mobile repeater link or other local ground operations to rely on, I would be *far more* worried about the cell phone or WSD on said PS officer’s belt or the hundreds of WSD’s roaming near him/her (and so should you) causing problems than a BAS device further away.

    Further, if you’re so concerned about Part 74 device interference to PS systems, why do you make no mention of banning Part 74 operations in T-band (470-512MHz) in the 13 MEAs and Gulf port region? I’ve not been able to find a single interference complaint from a T-band PS licensee that was due to a Part 74 BAS device, legal or illegal, since T-band was authorized over twenty years ago, but then I get flustered with the FCC search engine.
    2) “PISC recommends authorizing the GWMS to use the 2020-2025MHz channel potentially available following resolution of the AWS-2 and AWS-3 proceeding pending before the Commission.”

    This spectrum most definitely offers possibilities for non-audio quality critical applications (wireless intercom and IFB’s) but it is not the answer you might believe it to be. RF propagation (body absorption and obstruction hindrance) at those frequencies is problematic enough that critical audio (the sound you as the paying audience member or TV viewer want to hear) would suffer too greatly. If the spectrum is that good, why not put WSDs in the millimeter wave spectrum?

    (cont’d in next post . . .)

  2. (. . . Cont’d)

    3) “To grasp the immediacy and urgency of the situation, one need only imagine the problem of first responders summoned to an emergency at a performance of The Little Mermaid, only to discover that the radio systems they rely upon to penetrate walls and provide medical telemetry have encountered an ocean of interference from the intense unauthorized use of wireless microphones apparently common on Broadway.”

    “If unauthorized wireless microphone use converts houses of worship, theaters, and other such venues of intense unauthorized use into concentrated pools of UHF interference, it will significantly impede future public safety operations in these venues. Medical first responders rushing to treat a cardiac victim at a Broadway Theater, or fire fighters and police combating a future natural catastrophe or 9/11-style terrorist attack, must be able to rely on their interoperable wireless equipment with absolute confidence.”

    “As reported by unauthorized users in Docket 04-186, certain venues, such as theaters and large houses of worship (so called “megachurches”), use hundreds of wireless microphones intensively while in operation. This creates a veritable cloud of RF interference on the channels of the new commercial and public safety services on UHF Channels 52-69. A team of first responders summoned to treat a heart attack victim at a church running into such a wireless microphone cloud will find that their new radios capable of penetrating walls and providing medical telemetry are now useless. Firefighters and police could potentially find their new interoperative systems fatally unreliable in a building such as a theater or corporate conference center where such clouds of interference from wireless microphone systems left operating can spring up unexpectedly.”

    *Sigh* I’ll make you an offer: I won’t argue points of law or regulation, you don’t do RF engineering analysis. Okay, let me make you a different offer: You bring the PS radio devices of your choice (there’s a significant selection of 700MHz equipment available on the market) and I’ll provide the Broadway show (ask Michael Marcus how he liked Phantom last month. Better yet, ask him how he liked dinner – Rachel’s is quite a nice restaurant. Though I must confess, I have yet to try what looks to be a great bottle of wine he presented.) The point is, these PISC statements are based on unsubstantiated hypothetical posturing worthy of some of Shure’s or MSTV’s more irresponsible doom and gloom boasts. (After reading your blog for several months now, I would have thought better of you.)
    4) “For those concerned that bands outside the broadcast bands would not prove as useful, PISC notes that Ofcom in the United Kingdom recommended migrating wireless microphone users out of the broadcast bands to a single 8 MHz

    First, Ofcom has only recommended this, they haven’t formalized any regulation. Secondly, this is being vigorously fought by BEIRG (http://www.beirg.org.uk) because 8MHz is simply an insufficient amount of spectrum to present a medium to large scale event, using current FM technology. Third, there would still exist the half dozen or so license free frequencies allocated for PMSE.
    5) “Similarly, in Docket No. 04-186, Marcus Spectrum Solutions has described how a transition to digital wireless microphone systems at alternative frequencies would improve both audio performance and spectrum efficiency. While these proposals demonstrate that a number of experts believe that wireless microphones could both function entirely outside the broadcast bands, and that removal of these services from the broadcast bands would improve spectrum efficiency . . .”

    Not quite. Whereas digital wireless mics are and will continue to be more spectrally efficient, that’s only one third of the digital trinity we have yet to solve. Just like “good, fast, cheap; pick any two”, we currently have a digital brick wall: high audio quality, spectral efficiency and low latency (<2mS); pick any two. Too bad you didn’t site my comment to Michael’s filing on his blog (https://www.blogger.com/com…). Oh, and ask any professional sound designer or mixer who’s used them; the digital Sony’s don’t sound that good.

    (cont’d in next post . . .)

  3. (. . . cont’d)

    6) “Furthermore, years of unauthorized use have demonstrated clearly that even unsupervised, widespread, and often intense use of wireless devices in the vacant broadcast bands does not interfere with television broadcast service.”

    Because broadcast TV signals are static, known, measurable and the professional production community puts great effort in frequency coordination and band planning before BAS devices are deployed. Something you won’t be able to do with auto scanning “everything else be damned” WSDs.
    7) “. . . GWMS would have co-equal rights with any authorized white spaces devices and would not be eligible for “beacons” under consideration for licensed users. Rather, GWMS users and white space devices users would resolve interference issues through mutual negotiation.”

    And how do you propose the BAS equipment provider/user mutually negotiate with the hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of audience members with WSDs entering the performance venue an hour before show time?
    8) “PISC observe that this represents a considerable improvement for unauthorized wireless microphone users, as they at present do not enjoy any rights as against interference from devices authorized by the Commission . . .”

    Improvement? Going from a static, known, measurable transmission that for the most part can be easily avoided to a free for all dynamic undocumented mosh pit is hardly an improvement from an engineering standpoint. (Though I have no doubt the legal industry thrives on such confusion and disorganization in the marketplace.)

    9) “Making GWMS users and WSD users coequal therefore provides adequate protection for GWMS users . . .”

    Only legally, not operationally or in practice.
    10) “And, in any event, sensing and other interference mitigation technologies will provide adequate protection for GWMS”

    Only if WSD manufacturers don’t cheat; provide the FCC with compliant samples to verify/certify, but flood the marketplace with product that doesn’t meet that sensing specification. (Remember the FM radio transmitters for the Walkmans and iPods?)
    Let me conclude with some points I’ve made previously on your blog and on Sascha Meinrath’s and Michael’s. Yes, I agree current FM technology based Part 74 BAS devices are spectrally inefficient, in widespread illegal use and this must change. We as industry professional and you as paying audience members or TV viewers will have to deal with lesser audio, be it quality or quantity, for the near future until some significant RF development is made to deliver the level of audio quality (frequency response and latency) we currently enjoy in a more spectrally efficient manner.

    Spectrum lessees (auction winners) and public safety should have exclusive use of their spectrum as a matter of policy, not interference mitigation. If careful and proper frequency coordination by the BAS device user is not practiced, they will suffer tremendously greater interference than they will ever create. Thus self coordination is in the BAS device user’s primary interest.

    I continue to extend an invitation to you to come to a larger production where BAS devices are deployed; I’ll happily show you what we do and how we do it long before the audience enters the room.

  4. Henry:

    I hope you will raise all these points if the FCC puts the Petition out on notice or takes other action, as the FCC indicated.

    I will point out that while interference cases even in this environment are rare, they do occur. We cited one — in re Flecco. I also had a passing citation to a 2001 rulemaking with additional interference complaints.

    The engineers I talked to said there is a real danger here of interference. I also suggest that while a 5 MHz channel in 2020-2025 MHz would not precisely replicate existing microphones as currently designed, they will prove sufficient for most purposes and thus relieve crowding in the remaining UHF bands — as well as provide an alternative to those who think sensing is black magic.

  5. Come on Harold.

    Fleco was about a non-type approved wireless mic system operating in an unauthorized frequency band. This has nothing to do with Part 74 service, equipment or standard practices.

    If you’re referring to the March 20th 2001 NPRM, I can find no references to any actual complaints regarding interference experienced by a licensee due to Part 74 BAS operations (please point them out if I missed them). I see only references to comments filed concerning possible interference that might happen. So, has there been any interference since the revision to the rules?

    Engineering is more than just theory; it’s in large part practice and practical application. Do any of the engineers you spoke with have practical experience with Part 74 BAS devices and operation in an entertainment production environment? Using your argument, the FCC should have immediately ordered the shut down of all 800MHz Nextel operations as soon as it was determined they were interfering with PS operations, on a nationwide basis no less.

    But on a positive note, I’ll happily take the 5MHz at 2GHz. I can put a not insignificant number of less critical, short range (relatively speaking) audio paths up there freeing up UHF for the money channels.

  6. BTW, I’m quite amused by the Google ads that appear on the web page for this post: All for retailers selling wireless mics.

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