Apr 1

Written by:
4/1/2010 10:30 AM  RssIcon

By the time you read this, the FCC will have unveiled its Universal Broadband Plan. Since the plan was announced last year, there’s been some specula-tion in the industry that the proposal will come at the expense of broadcast—some have even surmised that the actions of the commission have been de-signed to eventually put our industry out of business. That speculation has been enhanced by recent revelations by a former FCC chairman.

In a speech to the Columbia Business School last month (and first posted on, Reed Hundt, who served as head of the commis-sion during the formative years of the transition (1994-97) basically admitted to his audience that the commission decided as early as 1994 that broadband should replace broadcast as the “common medium” in the United States. Hundt—who had on his staff a young attorney by the name of Julius Gena-chowski—told his audience that “the choice to do this was made in a first draft from 1994-97 by some of the people who are now running the FCC.” And to put an even finer point on it, he admitted that the commission did something a “little naughty—We delayed the transition to HDTV and fought a big battle against the whole idea.” And he even advocated the promotion of the Internet because he viewed its two-way capability as “pro-democracy,” and that broadcast had become “a threat to democracy,” by creating intermediaries between the medium and the viewer.

I’m not entirely sure why the former chairman, (who was never a big friend of broadcasters in the first place), would lay all of this out 16 years later for all to see. Back then, as broadcasters were formulating a digital standard, we thought that our biggest enemy was the computer industry, which was fighting for a progressive over interlaced standard. Who would have thought that the real enemy was the commission itself?

And even though “conspiracy” was often whispered around the time of the great VSB/COFDM debate a decade ago, such speculation was just that—speculation.

It should be noted that Hundt’s comments are those of a private citizen and not someone who has the power to make decisions; the FCC’s plan does not necessarily reflect all of the original intentions relayed by the former chairman in his speech. But it does reveal a policy that was put in place before the transition even began and advocated by former Vice President Al Gore—so one wonders how our industry would look like by now had the 2000 election gone the other way. All those fights during the last decade over indecency and media ownership? Just window dressing for what was really going on be-hind the scenes (and what was to come).

Taxpayers should be outraged by these revelations. Putting aside the fact that the transition cost the broadcast industry billions of dollars, public funds were put aside to mislead the public into thinking that a new and robust over-the-air digital broadcast medium would continue to be available when all along, the intention was to decimate and eventually eliminate what is the last source of free information and entertainment to the consumer.

We agree with the NAB that this plan should not result in an either/or proposition and that, technologically, broadcast can co-exist with a robust, wireless broadband without compromising access to either. But Hundt’s comments show that both the public and policymakers need to take a closer look at the real reasons behind proponents’ current specious arguments that spectrum reallocation is needed based on scarcity. The original intentions have been revealed as a bit underhanded; who’s to say the current plans aren’t either?

Tom Butts



2 comment(s) so far...


A 'Threat to Democracy?'

Dear Editor Butts: I wholeheartedly agree with the premise of your editorial. This whole "National Broadband Plan" has been a red herring all along. Why say this? Simple: TV and Low Power TV stations can already implement every aspect of the so-called National Broadband Plan under existing FCC rules. For example, full-power TV can implement it pursuant to FCC Rule 73.624. LPTV can implement it pursuant to FCC Rule 74.790. We can even go the next level, pay less than $75.00 for a common carrier 3650 MHz license and wirelessly interconnect the entire nation through TV and LPTV stations have RF footprints five to ten times the diameter of even the best 3G and two or three times the 4G footprint. All we have to do is file FCC Form 317 and pay a fee each year. So, what's the fuss about? The FCC loves its spectrum auctions. It gets to sell a license. The FCC thinks this is going to generate billions of dollars in revenue for the national treasury making them the political heroes of the hour. They need only look at recent auctions to remind themselves that this could wind up disappointing them. The broadband industry would love nothing more than for FCC to condemn broadcasters and hand them the spectrum because then they control content and charge a fee to do it (right now, we do it for free). Why not get the best of both worlds? We can lease our excess spectrum to the broadbanders. Their equipment (assuming they ever offer it) can interface with ours. They get the benefit of an RF footprint second to none, we get the benefit of a more-or-less steady revenue stream, and the FCC gets 5% of our proceeds plus annual regulatory fees. That's a win-win-win and leaves nobody wondering if there's going to be a disappointment. Will broadbanders get a quick start by joining us in this solution, or shall we make this an election year issue? Remember, Chairman Genachowski, the political leaders you answer to want to get reelected this year and in the years to come. We are their friends! Best wishes, James Edwin Whedbee, M.Ed. Owner: KZJW-LD

By on   4/2/2010 1:13 PM

A 'Threat to Democracy?'

For those who want to get rid of antenna tv. You are nothing but a bunch of nazis This was put in place fo the people that had no money. People in this country are hurting and all you can think about is make more money and taking away from the poor people of this county Why dont you just kill us all? Then who will you get to do your laundry, shop for you or build your homes or work on your cars.. You are propably so stupid you did not think of that and I am sure you can not do it your self. Think of someone else for a change and not your greeding selves.

By on   6/15/2011 6:03 PM

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