League Wants FCC to Prevent Portable Devices on Airwaves Used for Theatre Mikes

News   League Wants FCC to Prevent Portable Devices on Airwaves Used for Theatre Mikes
The League of American Theatres and Producers, Inc., the trade association for the Broadway industry, is joining with major sports leagues, television broadcasters and houses of worship to urge the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to not allow major tech companies — such as Google and Microsoft — the use of personal wireless devices on frequencies heretofore reserved for wireless microphones.

The so-called "white spaces" are frequencies that are not used for broadcasting, but for amplification — wireless mikes in theatres, churches and sports events, for example.

According to the League, in an effort to more efficiently manage the remaining white spaces, the FCC has initiated proceedings to consider how, and under what circumstances, to authorize millions of new electronic "unlicensed devices" — including PDAs, cordless phones and wireless laptops — to operate simultaneously on these frequencies.

The public use of these "white spaces" would potentially interfere with amplification and listening devices in theatres around the country, Broadway and tour producers and theatre owners say.

In addition to interference issues, there is a financial concern. There may be future licensing or usage fees for these currently "free" frequencies, which could potentially hit producers in the wallet. A spokesperson for the League told Playbill.com Oct. 15, "We do not know how this will affect our future costs."

Major tech companies, with deep pockets, have said they are willing to pay for the use of "white spaces." On Oct. 15, according to a League announcement, theatre leaders and a representative from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration will meet with FCC chairman Kevin Martin "to outline their concerns with the FCC allowing millions of new wireless devices to operate on the same wireless frequencies as wireless microphones used in theatre, music, dance and other live performances across the country. If such devices interfere with wireless microphone systems, the Broadway community and others would be paralyzed."

During any evening in New York, more than 3,000 wireless units are in use on Broadway, "providing state-of-the-art sound to audiences, giving members of the hearing-impaired community the opportunity to experience live theatre, and supporting complex technical coordination," the League reported. All Broadway musicals and many plays use multiple wireless microphones during each performance.

"Broadway theatres in New York alone annually attract more than 12 million theatregoers per year, support 45,000 full-time equivalent jobs, and generate an economic impact of $4.8 billion — an industry that would be crippled without wireless capability," Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of The League of American Theatres and Producers, Inc., said in a statement. "The impact on touring Broadway productions in 240 cities across North America — seen by more than 17 million theatregoers each year — would be equally devastating."

For 35 years, users of wireless microphones — Broadway theatres, as well as churches, schools, musicians, newscasters and sportscasters — have operated on radio frequencies between the television broadcast channels — the so-called "white spaces" in the TV band (from 54 MHz to 698 MHz).

Actress Glenn Close (Barnum, Sunset Boulevard) said in a statement, "People come from around the world to Broadway to see and hear world class entertainment. As a performer I know how distracting the smallest bit of interference can be to a live theatrical performance. To allow new devices to operate on the same spectrum as wireless microphones today will ruin the high quality of sound production Broadway theatergoers expect. I join my friends from the League in urging the Federal Communication Commission to prohibit new wireless devices in this 'white space.'"

The League has filed a letter with the FCC signed by more than 40 producers, theatre owners and road presenters and is working with such non-profit arts groups as the American Arts Alliance, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, the American Symphony Orchestra League and Dance/USA and OPERA America.

Some argue that technology can prevent interference to existing users, but the League contends the technology is "unproven" and that "prototype devices have failed FCC tests."

For more information about the League's views on "white spaces," visit the press room section of www.livebroadway.com.

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