Mic Check: Broadway’s Big Problem With the FCC

The push for more spectrum by wireless companies has created a big problem for industries that rely on cordless microphones. The FCC has created rules to allow for the technology, but some groups worry the protections won't be sufficient.

Quick: What do NFL coaches, TV hosts, and keynote speakers have in common with the cast of Les Misérables?

If you answered “cordless microphones,” you’ve probably taken the stage once or twice. It’s an issue that’s particularly frustrating for actors, in the same way some jerk talking on his cellphone during a Broadway performance is.

In fact, it’s for the same reason. See, the constant push for additional wireless spectrum by the telecom industry is threatening to crowd out people who rely on wireless microphones to do their jobs. And the trade group that represents Broadway’s thespians and backstage support staffers wants to ensure that doesn’t happen.

“Interference is not acceptable for a live performance in front of a live audience,” said Tom Ferrugia, director of government affairs for the Broadway League, in comments to Bloomberg Business.

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission—an organization that normally has no association with Broadway—set rules for the forthcoming wireless spectrum auction, which is expected to raise billions of dollars for the U.S. Treasury. But earlier in the day, the commission announced rules that would set aside wireless spectrum for those who use microphones. The plan will set the stage for an expansion of the spectrum specifically for microphone users—but some, such as the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), worry that the level of spectrum may not be sufficient.

“At the end of the day, broadcasters are the party that provides local news in times of emergency or national security events,” NAB Vice President of Spectrum Policy Patrick McFadden told Bloomberg Business. “We need the tools to do that, and one of the tools we need is spectrum to use wireless microphones.”

NAB, unlike the Broadway League, has an interest in the larger issue of spectrum auctions, which are expected to take spectrum away from the television airwaves in favor of wireless usage. And the group wasn’t happy with the FCC’s announcement.

“Today’s FCC vote is a major setback for stakeholders eager for a successful incentive auction,” NAB Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton stated. “The Commission’s order undermines certainty for reverse and forward auction bidders and irresponsibly undercuts the ability of broadcasters to keep local communities safe and informed.”

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!