McAdams On: Wireless TV
10/30/2009 11:29:30 AM
It seems odd that wireless is the holy grail of all
transmitted media except TV: Wireless broadband, wireless networks, wireless
phones--as in, the demise of land lines. Television alone has migrated the
other way. Very few domiciles lack a snake of coaxial cable, and because of
that, many folks argue that wireless TV is no longer necessary.
It may not be, if only in the sense that TV’s not exactly “necessary” the way
water and food are “necessary.” But relegating TV to wires so cell phone
companies can charge people subscriptions for the public airwaves seems
A massive, nationwide infrastructure already exists for wireless television.
That infrastructure was completely retooled in the last few years at the behest
of the federal government. It’s now been live for 140 days.
It’s the only television transmission system whereby high-definition
programming isn’t crushed into foggy blur. It’s a shame broadcasters didn’t
shout that fact from every one of their transmitters, but that train done left
the station. It’s onward, into a future where bureaucrats and lobbyists are
busy rolling up the tracks.
The medium is under siege, there’s no doubt. Yet another “study” was rolled out
this week asserting the spectrum is worth more for broadband than broadcasting.
It doesn’t say to whom, however. The government coffers argument is a joke. Whatever
money the government might make from it at auction has already been spent 192
The projected economic benefits assume ubiquity, and ubiquity requires
infrastructure. There are millions of Claudville, Va.’s across the country
skipped over by broadband providers now. That’s not going to change under a nationwide
plan. Those communities will have to develop their own strategies, as
Claudville did--one in which local broadcasters participate at some level.
There’s also that $62 billion that wireless providers supposedly would pay for
the broadcast spectrum licenses. All cap ex ends up coming out of customers’
pockets. That’s just business. That’s just $201 for every man, woman and child
in the country. Toss in construction costs, marketing, lobbying, bonuses and
incidentals, and you probably have $1,000 per person.
Phone bills will skyrocket. That’ll be fun.
There’s also scads of WiFi pockets around the country already generating
millions for carriers. It’s unlikely that those will be jeopardized.
Nationwide wireless broadband is a
good idea, but not dictated by the Pharaohic school of management, “so let it
be written, so let it be done.” The very fact that communities like Claudville,
Va., had no Internet provider into 2009 suggests nationwide access is more than
a matter of spectrum. It’s economics. No service provider in business is there
to make things cheaper for their customers. I am typically reminded here that
long-distance calling is cheaper than it once was, but I pay the phone company
five times what I did when long-distance calling cost so much per minute. My
phone use is precisely the same.
This assault against broadcast television is just gathering momentum. There’s
little being said about the competitive element it provides for cable TV, and
what will happen to cable bills once it’s gone.
There’s a mantra in much of Washington, D.C. that no one would notice if
broadcast TV went away. Meanwhile, nearly 35 million coupons were redeemed across
the country for over-the-air digital TV receivers. Chances are, someone might
notice if wireless TV goes away.