McAdams On: Cable Skirmish Won’t Derail Spectrum Reclamation
5/27/2010 9:54:09 AM
The focus of the government’s broadband strategy
is now on the cable industry, giving broadcasters a chance to regroup for the
continuing spectrum onslaught. FCC regulators bunched the collective BVDs of
cable providers recently with news of potentially reclassifying Internet service like
landline telephone service.
This came after a federal court told the FCC to please remove its sticky
fingers from Comcast’s broadband network. Regulators had put the screws to
Comcast for throttling peer-to-peer traffic to preserve bandwidth for regular
schmucks to spam friends with bawdy e-mails. The court said Comcast could
throttle away under the current broadband classification. So the FCC said, “We
shall then reclassify you.” To which the big broadband providers replied, “We shall
then invest our capital elsewhere.”
And this will go on until someone shoots an eye out.
Meanwhile, there’s the action agenda—the 64 proceedings set forth by the FCC to
execute the National Broadband Plan. The one to reclaim broadcast spectrum for
broadband is about two months away. That’s precious time for an industry that
squeaked through 2009 like a rusty bicycle.
Applying it to a full-court press on spectrum inventory is an option. The House
of Representatives passed legislation requiring one, but the bill is hung up in
the Senate over its projected $20 million price tag. Spectrum inventory
opposition between the House and Senate means the FCC will get caught in the
middle. Virginia Democrat Rick Boucher, who favors the inventory and chairs the
House Communications Subcommittee, will toss wrenches into the action agenda
every step of the way. It’s a perfect opportunity for the broadcast lobbies to
say, “Oh, look! We found a compromise spectrum inventory plan right here.”
Broadcasters after all are not opposed to 100 Mbps à la the broadband plan.
They are opposed to reconfiguring their plants a second time within a few years
based on cell-phone company assertions about phantom spectrum shortages. What a
compromise spectrum inventory plan might look like is anyone’s guess, but it
was broadcasters who figured out their own channel remapping plan for the DTV
Broadcasting remains one of the most innovative industries in business, despite
assertions to the contrary. The government said, “Go digital,” and the industry
figured out how to do it, ushering in high-definition technology, multicast
channels, 3DTV and soon, mobile DTV. The progress continues even as the FCC
plans its spectrum ambush, while Verizon is halting the build-out of its fiber network.
The carrier hasn’t specified why, but uncertainty about the fed’s own broadband
intentions is a reasonable assumption. Who needs fiber for 50 Mbps when there’s
100 Mbps in the air via an initiative in which Verizon would clearly have to
Broadcasters have the most at risk in the broadband game, wherever the media
focus may fall. The spectrum battle hasn’t gone away.