Churches Suffer Losses Under New FCC Rule

As the Federal Communications Commission seeks out more broadband space, the agency is being asked to consider possibly the largest group that would be affected by the move – that is, churches.

Churches across the country that use wireless devices have already been affected by FCC's 2008 decision to auction off rights to the 700 MHz band. But their new push for even more spectrum is sure to create more losses and interferences.

"I assure you the number one use of wireless systems in this country is churches," Reed Hall, director of Audio & Technical Production at Lakewood Church in Houston, told The Christian Post. "Ninety percent of them have at least one wireless system. You compare that to Broadway, which is like a three-block area."

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The FCC unveiled a national broadband plan on Tuesday as part of its effort to make high-speed Internet service faster and available to all U.S. residents. Some of the proposals include freeing up 500 MHz of spectrum for wireless broadband services, use of currently unused or underused spectrum, and taking advantage of the "white space" in the television broadcasting spectrum.

The plan comes just as the FCC is enforcing its new rule that requires anyone using a wireless microphone that operates in the 700 MHz band – including both licensed users (under Part 74) and unlicensed users – to stop operating the device no later than June 12. The band was sold to companies like Verizon and AT&T for billions of dollars.

Thousands of churches have been forced to replace their equipment or otherwise experience interference or face the possibility of heavy fines. Replacing thousands of dollars worth of gear hasn't come easy for some churches especially in a slow economy.

Lakewood Church, the largest church in the country, estimates that it has to take up to $50,000 worth of equipment (wireless mics, in-ear monitors, etc.) out of service, according to Hall. Though the megachurch could have suffered greater losses, Hall said they were aware of the issue years earlier and stopped making purchases of devices operating in the 700 MHz band early on.

Lakewood, which operates some 70 wireless systems, was among a number of churches in 2008 that opposed opening up the spectrum. Hall contends the space is publicly owned and auctioning the band is tantamount to "selling air space over your house."

"They sold this bandwidth away without consideration of everybody that used it," Hall said to The Christian Post.

With the FCC now seeking even more bandwidth, Lakewood Church has appealed to the agency to not forget about America's houses of worship.

Currently Lakewood is supporting a bill, introduced by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), that protects 13 different classes of wireless microphone users. It protects them from interference that could result from the operation of new devices that the FCC has approved for "white space" frequencies currently occupied by wireless microphone users. The classes include amusement parks, houses of worship, museums, stadiums and theaters.

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