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What you need to know about pending telecom legislation

Did you know there's a pending telecom law that could have a big impact on the use of wireless technology at meetings (think wireless mics and WiFi)? Ray Verhelst, president of ConventionDisc, Inc. wrote about it on the MeCo listserv this morning, and gave me permission to re-post it here:

    A pending telecom law that had been introduced in both the House and the Senate back in February ... was asking for the law to be changed to where the FCC would start auctioning off unused bandwidth in the unlicensed frequencies for new communication alternatives. The unlicensed bandwidth discussed is actually the regions used for things such as cordless telephones, wireless broadband (WiFi / 802.xx), Bluetooth devices, wireless microphones and other types of common controllers. The availability of said bandwidth varied within each market so what might be used for one thing in Chicago could be completely different in San Diego. Without hardware industry support, you would need to know each and every frequency assignment for each market you traveled to in order to make sure your equipment would be compatible.

    Making this additional bandwidth available for auction was a reaction based on a lack of competition within the broadband market to more rural areas but it was offered up without real industry support. The major detractors were major television networks who believed that without the necessary technical support from manufacturers, each major market would have different players being awarded different frequencies making it impossible to map out different equipment usage for things such as wireless camera broadcast connections for both sports and live events as well as the use of the more common wireless microphone. It is the latter that really has the potential of creating havoc for our industry.

    Since that time, another bill has been offered up (American Broadband for Communities Act - H.R.5085) which takes into account a more focused look at how the assignable bandwidth will get used and how both the FCC and the industry will support it with strict technical requirements that virtually eliminate the free-for-all assignment of local market bandwidth. While the first two pieces of legislation have not gone away, many of the supporters have jumped on the bandwagon of this new piece of legislation including many corporations such as Intel.

    Without getting really technical over the actual dividing of the frequencies amongst the players, the FCC has already looked at where some of this unused bandwidth will come from. Because of the pending change from analog television broadcasts to digital between now and 2007, there will be significant frequency release (channels 52-69 have already been released) and therefore are becoming available for auction. These are not the channels on your cable box but they are spectrum ranges. As more broadcast elements switch to the digital format a greater number of “channels” will become available.

    This new bill actually works well for us in the meeting and events industry because it promotes greater coverage of wireless broadband connectivity for the delivery of everything from television programming to voice such as Internet-based telephone systems. The manufacturers of wireless hardware are looking to the FCC and their new rulings to determine best how to configure the next generation of equipment. Granted, this could force older items into faster retirement but that seems to be the common price to pay for growth.

    The TIA (Telecommunications Industry Association) is behind this new bill and supports the greater use of bandwidth to spread alternative delivery of broadband content to more of the country. They claim that issuing these licenses will increase competition for wired and direct satellite delivery services that currently hold a significant amount of control over this market. More competition means lower costs for the consumer and less of a digital divide. More coverage means we can expect greater speeds and better signal quality.

    The FCC will start auctioning off some of the new bandwidth on June 29th with a new provision that provides a condition upon awarding that a licensee cannot initiate any new services that interfere with existing wireless technologies until a legitimate workaround can be implemented to the satisfaction of all parties.

    For now we can rest assured that our wireless microphones will continue to work as well as our wireless links between our cellular phones and other devices will remain connected without any additional interference.

Thanks for the update, Ray!

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