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Fines coming for banned microphones

Inspection Time photo

INSPECTION TIME — Ian Richardson, communication services director for the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, checks the data label on a wireless microphone to ensure the device is not operating on a frequency banned by the Federal Communications Commission. The U.S. agency has announced fines of $100,000 or more for violators of the updated frequency rules. (Photo by William H. Perkins Jr.)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP and local reports) — Churches could face six-figure fines if they continue to use wireless microphones that operate within a spectrum the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has set aside for public safety entities.

“Certain wireless microphones have operated in frequencies that are needed for public safety. When these microphones were first designed, the frequencies they used were in between the frequencies that television stations used to broadcast television programs,” the FCC explained.

“With the completion of the digital television (DTV) transition on June 12, 2009, television stations no longer use the frequencies between 698 and 806 MHz (the 700 MHz band) for broadcast,” the FCC stated. “These frequencies are now being used by public safety entities (such as police, fire, and emergency services) and by commercial providers of wireless services (such as wireless broadband services).”

For instance, if a church is using wireless microphones during a worship service, and a microphone which is powerful enough to operate outside the building causes interference to public safety workers communicating via radios, lives could be at risk.

Therefore, as of June 12, anyone using a wireless microphone within the 700 MHz band has been ordered to vacate the frequencies. Violations will be handled on a case-by-case basis, but fines could exceed $100,000.

“What our Mississippi Baptist churches need to understand is that this is a very serious issue. The 700 MHz band — actually 699-806 MHz — is now to be used solely for emergency services,” said Ian Richardson, director of communication services for the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board and custodian of the board’s audio equipment.

“If a church is found in violation of this FCC ruling, the fine could exceed $100,000. There are no exceptions,” Richardson said. “If a church is using wireless frequencies in the 700 MHz band, this should be discontinued immediately. New microphone systems in compliance with FCC regulations must be purchased.”

Churches across the Southern Baptist Convention have had to examine their microphone equipment to ensure they aren’t in violation of the FCC ban, and in many cases the cost of replacing such equipment has been significant.

“We had to replace a total of 13 microphones that were all within the frequency the FCC wanted to reserve strictly for police and ambulance services and things like that. It cost us about $13,000 to replace those microphones,” said Curtis Brewer, associate pastor of worship and celebration at First Church in Odessa, Texas.

Brewer said he uses at least 20 wireless microphones each Sunday with praise teams, special speakers, the pastor, baptisms, and other components of the worship service “and then from time to time, when it fits appropriately within the service, we’ll go into the congregation with wireless microphones and get people to comment on a particular topic that we’ve touched on or to lead in prayer at a specific time or to have a testimony from someone who’s not physically able to get to the platform, so we just run all over the place with those wireless microphones,” Brewer told Baptist Press.

First Church was prepared for the switchover in June because they knew it was coming about a year and a half in advance, Brewer said.

“Once we knew that it was coming, we began to set money aside. When we knew that it was going to cost us this much money, we were able to buy it in sections because not only did you have to get the microphones but we were responsible for getting of course the receivers and the transmitters,” Brewer said.

Even though the wireless microphones the church used in the 700 MHz band are of good quality and still work well, they are of no use under the FCC’s new regulation.

“I know that there are some in our town that aren’t quite as fortunate as we are that have had to totally do away with wireless microphones and go back to cable mikes,” Brewer said, “so there are other options instead of having to replace, but we’ve just been blessed to be able to make the replacements happen.”

Churches are advised to determine whether the wireless microphones they use are in violation of the FCC’s ban on the 700 MHz range. Typically, a number followed by MHz appears on the back or side of the receiver, and if it falls between 698 and 806 MHz, it needs to be set aside.

If church leaders are unsure whether their equipment meets the new standard, they can visit fcc.gov/cgb/wirelessmicrophones to view a manufacturer’s list of microphones and whether they comply.

One indication that a microphone is in violation of the ban is if a church is experiencing interference when using the wireless device. “Typically, if they’re receiving interference, then they’re also causing it,” said Matthew Nodine of the FCC’s Wireless Communications Bureau.

Kent Margraves of Sennheiser Electronic Corporation, a microphone manufacturer, told Your Church, a publication of Christianity Today, that in most cases churches don’t use a large number of wireless microphones each week.

If they are only needed for larger events such as concerts and pageants, churches may consider renting wireless devices for those occasions if money is not available to replace the entire collection.

“Quality rental suppliers will have up-to-date equipment,” Margraves said.

For more information, Mississippi Baptist churches can contact Richardson at P.O. Box 530, Jackson, MS 39205-0530. Telephone: (601) 292-3290 or toll-free outside Jackson (800) 748-1651, ext. 290. E-mail: irichardson@mbcb.org.