The old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is a philosophy of not making changes where none are needed.
Sometimes, though, rules need to be broken. That's the case if you still haven't upgraded your church's wireless microphones.
Wireless microphones — whether handheld, lavalier or headset — can be an asset to church worship, drama and videos. The choice of avoiding additional cables and mic outlets means more freedom of movement and fewer distractions.
At the same time, most everyone has heard some story of a church service interrupted by a trucker or another church in the neighborhood because the signal is broadcast between microphone and receiver, or had units affected by weak batteries.
A recent conference sponsored by Modern Communications in St. Louis attracted representatives from a variety of churches. Featured speaker Adam Livella, area sales manager for Sennheiser Electronic Corporation, led a discussion about different types of microphones and how they can best be used, addressing the changes in the wireless spectrum.
(Those curious about how the spectrum is used should visit the FCC's spectrum dashboard at reboot.fcc.gov/reform/systems/spectrum-dashboard. Sennheiser provides a frequency finder at sennheiserusa.com/findfrequency.)
At one time the broadcast frequencies churches needed were located between frequencies analog television channels used. With the transition to digital television in 2009, this 700 MHz band — 698-806 MHz — has been reallocated.
The Federal Communications Commission has allowed wireless service providers to purchase spectrum licenses through auctions that have raised $19 billion. As more cell phones, smartphones, e-book readers and 4G devices are developed and marketed, more bandwidth will be needed.
More importantly, public safety agencies also are major users of these frequencies.
That's why on June 12, 2010, it became illegal to operate a wireless system in the 700 MHz spectrum, even if the frequency is not being used. Violators can face up to $112,500 in fines or imprisonment. This also includes wireless intercoms, wireless in-ear monitors and similar devices.
What should you do?
If you haven't checked your equipment, do so. The FCC keeps a list of manufactures and prohibited equipment, manufacturer contacts and FAQs at fcc.gov/cgb/wirelessmicrophones.
Several sources suggest that potentially, thousands of locations in violation could still exist after the June 2010 deadline.
It's difficult to stop using something in good working order, particularly if replacing it could cost hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars.
But as cell phone companies expand and fire, ambulance and other safety broadcasts utilize these frequencies, illegal devices will stop working reliably because of static and interference. As Livella reminded the class, "The strongest signal wins."
— Dispose of illegal devices, including those in storage. Manufactures no longer offer rebate programs and are not legally allowed to buy back equipment. It is also illegal for you to sell it. Overseas options have regulatory and customs complications.
Instead, use an electronics recycling site. The FCC site lists three, including earth911.com, but only two were functioning.
— If you are buying a wireless system, particularly if from an auction or third-party site, use caution. Although it is illegal to sell 700 MHz systems, ask first.
As with copyright violations for music and videos, following the law is more important than saving a few dollars in the short term.
Ken Satterfield is advertising coordinator for Word&Way.