Microsoft’s TV white space proposal sparks worries from theater industry

Theaters in New York City and across the country are sounding the horn about potential elevated risks of interference to wireless microphones and other devices if Microsoft’s proposals for TV white spaces are adopted.

It’s not necessary a new concern—entertainer Dolly Parton years ago registered her concerns about how changes to Federal Communications Commission white space rules could harm wireless microphones. But, it remains a persistent concern for theaters across the county.

The National Alliance for Musical Theatre (NAMT) (PDF), the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York (PDF) and the League of American Orchestras (PDF) are a few of the groups registering their concerns with the FCC. Many of them made a point of saying they support greater broadband connectivity in rural areas of the country, but they’re concerned that Microsoft’s proposals would result in significantly elevated possibilities of interference to wireless microphones and other devices used in theaters.

The protections that Microsoft outlined in its petition would only be of benefit to licensed wireless microphone users, not unlicensed, they argue.

“The company appreciates the Commission’s commitment to bridging the digital divide and enhancing rural access, but believes that the record in ET Docket No. 14-165 unequivocally shows that numerous rural organizations spanning civil society, the arts, and education need protection from harmful interference,” wrote representatives of Shure, a wireless microphone manufacturer, in its filing (PDF). “Shure hopes the Commission will take the time to hear the stories of such concerned citizens and provide them with the technical safeguards they deserve.”

In a statement provided to FierceWireless, Microsoft said it supports technical rules that protect licensees from harmful interference. “The FCC’s existing TV white spaces rules protect licensed wireless microphones from interference and also provide channels in which unlicensed wireless microphones can operate. Under the FCC’s rules, wireless microphones also have numerous additional spectrum blocks beyond the TV white spaces in which to operate,” a Microsoft spokesperson said via email.

Commenters also called for improvements in the databases that were intended to be a resource for wireless microphone operators to identify available frequencies. They say those databases are dysfunctional and not operating reliably.

The Microsoft spokesperson responded that the FCC recently certified a TV white space database operated by Nominet. In addition to complying with the FCC’s requirements, Nominet has been working with the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) to ensure that broadcasters will continue to be protected from any harmful interference.

RELATED: Microsoft garners support for TV white space reforms

Last month, several groups submitted comments in support of Microsoft’s petition for a rulemaking, saying it would lead to TV white space spectrum being more efficiently and effectively deployed for rural broadband access.

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) urged the commission to limit a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) to a few specific areas with cross-industry support. The NAB had been one of the biggest critics of Microsoft’s plan for TV white spaces but after several months of conversations with Microsoft, it agreed to some changes being proposed.