McAdams On: Spectrum Efficiency as a Hammer
5/12/2011 4:14:27 PM
April 8, 2011: LOS ANGELES: The White
House held a meeting on incentive auctions this week designed to motivate Congress
to authorize them. Current law holds that the proceeds from spectrum license auctions
go directly to the U.S. Treasury. The Obama Administration wants to split them with
broadcasters who voluntarily relinquish spectrum for wireless broadband.
The Administration needs cooperation from a Congress somewhat preoccupied in a budget
stalemate. The situation could work either way for broadcasters. The GOP may want
to withhold authorization because the National Broadband Plan is one of President
Obama’s pet projects. It may approve incentive auctions because doing so will make
members appear nonpartisan for at least 10 minutes, and there’s no risk of public
backlash over the issue. And that’s a shame, really.
The public seems woefully if not intentionally ill-informed about the National Broadband
Plan. The wireless industry and its allies in consumer electronics have a lot of
parrots in the media and the blogosphere happy to allegorize the spectrum reallocation
as a patriotic duty. Much of what’s been repeated
ad nauseam is about a “looming spectrum crisis” that only reassignment
of the television bands can avert.
This is absolute, straightforward cow patties.
A priori, any looming spectrum crisis brought about by addictive usage
of smartphones can be mitigated to some degree with mathematics. In the din surrounding
the National Broadband Plan, there’s nary a mention of increasing the efficiency
of wireless devices, applications and networks.
“Applications that are designed specifically for bandwidth-constrained networks
can consume significantly less data than those that are not.” That’s
Rysavy Research. “Efficient browsers
communicate only half the data of other mainstream mobile browsers.”
Wireless networks are becoming more efficient, though the Administration’s decree
to free 500 MHz for broadband does not interpolate this. Forecasts for future usage--upon
which rest the justification for reassigning broadcast spectrum--primarily rely
on recent and current levels of data consumption and network efficiency based on
3G technology. Fourth-generation LTE networks are twice as spectrally efficient
as 3G networks,
says, and promise even greater efficiency going forward. There were zero LTE subscribers
in 2009 and just 700,000 worldwide last year. iSuppli predicts the number will exceed
303 million in three years.
The president’s call for 500 MHz total, 24 percent of it from the broadcast band,
is a target, not a mathematically demonstrable quantity. A more precisely extrapolated
number is possible, but not politically desirable. The spectrum reassignment maneuver
is about monopolization of video delivery. Once the wireless industry has wrested
control of all broadcast spectrum (clearly the goal... remember, this is the second
offensive), it will have to implement spectrum efficiencies because there’s only
so much of it. I doubt the Pentagon’s going to fork over its airwaves so I can watch
dancing cats on my phone while I’m waiting at Starbuck’s for just black coffee.
It’s either ironic or adept media manipulation that while the wireless industry
gets a pass on spectral efficiency, the broadcast industry is getting pounded for
not using spectrum efficiently. The argument here is that stations are not using
their 6 MHz to its fullest capacity. This postulation seems about as demonstrable
as needing 500 MHz for wireless broadband. There are something like 70 channels
on the air here in Los Angeles, many of them targeting underserved communities.
Those stations that aren’t multicasting are transmitting full high definition. Six
are sending out Mobile DTV signals. This is not even two years after the DTV transition,
up until which time broadcasters were transmitting dual analog and digital signals
and racking up the requisite operating costs.
To infer that broadcasting is an inefficient use of the spectrum per se is simply
disingenuous. The least the Administration could do is admit that by “inefficient”
it’s referring to stock dividends. Otherwise, logic dictates that alternative means
of deploying broadband across the country would be proffered. But they’re not, at
least not by the Administration nor its foot soldiers at the Federal Communications
Wholesale reassignment of the TV bands is probably the most cumbersome, expensive,
disruptive and time-consuming route to achieving nationwide wireless broadband.
The technical requirements and end-user demands of Custer County, Nebraska and downtown
Manhattan have approximately nothing in common. Custer County would be far better
off working with local TV, radio and phone providers to launch a broadband network.
Small and rural communities, the alleged beneficiaries of the FCC’s plan, could
get municipal networks up and running far faster than waiting for the fed to hand
spectrum to wireless companies that don’t invest in remote communities now because
they don’t yield enough revenue.
Clusters of community networks rather than one big nationwide one might mean FCC
chief Julius Genachowski has to occasionally change networks as he’s racing through
Nebraska on I-80, at least with his current smartphone.
Try as I might, I cannot fathom this to be a tragedy of mythic proportion.