McAdams On: The Future Mobile Auction
2/26/2010 1:13:01 PM
The FCC is determined to reclaim all of the
broadcast spectrum for broadband. Even with a bill pending for the full inventory
of who and what is using the radio frequency bands, the FCC is going full-tilt
after that occupied by TV stations. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski this week
revealed a voluntary plan for
broadcasters to turn over their spectrum in a “Future Mobile Auction.” While he
stressed “voluntary,” he also failed to mention any other single source of
spectrum. The question is, why?
As NBC chief Jeff Zucker reportedly pointed out during a House Judiciary
Committee hearing yesterday, broadcasters now occupy roughly 200 MHz of the
spectrum. Even if the commission kills broadcast TV entirely, it needs another
300 MHz to reach its stated goal. Robert Seidel of CBS noted last week at the
Hollywood Post Alliance Tech Retreat that, “One of the single largest users of
spectrum is the federal government, so I’d say to them, ‘check your own house
before you come to ours.’” Art Allison of the NAB said the DTV spectrum
allocation model was flawed, and that only single-interference models were used
for testing. Hence TV stations and networks continue to work out signal
coverage and reception issues. (See “Post-transition Issues
If ever there was an opportunity for conspiracy theory, this seems to be one.
The government agency in charge of regulating broadcast television appears intent
on killing it. The reality of most conspiracy theories, however, is they assign
far too much cleverness on the part of perpetrators. The spectrum battle is
just a political lobbying pig dressed up in public-interest lipstick. To hear FCC
Chairman Julius Genachowski tell it, nationwide broadband will heal the world.
It will put everyone to work. It will resolve the health-care schism, raise
literacy levels and clean up the environment. No, really. Clean up the
“With mobile broadband,” the chairman said Wednesday, “consumers and businesses
can utilize Smart Grid-enabled information services. A whole new world of
‘energy apps’ can adjust lights, heating, and cooling from a smartphone or
netbook, saving electricity, saving our environment, and saving money to boot.”
Wacky as it may be to the chairman, some of us turn off the lights before we
leave the house. But that’s a teensy quibble. The bigger quibble is the
disconnect between the chairman’s notions about how Americans live versus the
reality. This is endemic in Washington, D.C. I remember once telling an FCC
deputy that I didn’t have cable TV because I choose to delegate my meager
disposable income elsewhere. I, a journalist, speaking to he, a D.C. attorney.
He was incredulous that I thought $100 a month was too much to spend on TV.
Frankly, I think any amount of money per month is too much to spend on TV,
which places me among around 20 million or so Americans who watch it over-the-air.
That’s not enough to justify the use of spectrum for broadcasting, opponents
say without so much as a nod to the anti-competitive nature of their position.
Over-the-air television is the only alternative source of programming in many,
many situations. Cable whines about satellite, but the reality is that the vast
majority of Americans have a choice of exactly one cable provider--if that--and
no DBS provider in some cases. Others, the two DBS providers. Where I live,
it’s DirecTV or antenna TV. That’s it.
There are also people who don’t care about TV, just as there are people who
don’t care about broadband. There are actual human beings in America who are
not compelled to tweet their selection of sandwich meat. According to the FCC’s
own survey, 17.7 million Americans think the Internet is a waste of time. I
understand that’s heresy in smartphone-centric Washington, D.C., where the FCC
just tweeted, “Broadband Plan Executive Director Blair on how the Plan will
positively affect investment climate.”
Which answers the “why.” Wireless providers and by association, Wall Street,
can get more out of monthly fee services than broadcasters can from free TV.
And now broadcasters want to take free TV mobile, which would compete with the
incrementally charged video services proffered by wireless providers. Therein
is the crux of this entire effort to reallocate broadcast spectrum for
broadband. That, and nothing else. Public-interest assertions are disingenuous
Americans deserve to be told the truth so that when they can’t find drinking
water after the next big natural disaster, they know who to thank.