05.06.2011 12:00 AM
McAdams On: More Fun With Numbers
BEMUSED, CALIF.: One learns very early in journalism school (yes, there were once such things) that numbers are imperative to a story. Prices give perspective. For example, had a certain mayor of Los Angeles limited his graft to a $12 ticket for “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” rather than $21,000 for the Oscars . . . well, you do the math.

Aha! But you won’t, will you? Because there would be no such thing as journalism school if we were all a little better at math. Nooo. We would be designing IC schematics for devices that facilitate complete social isolation in return for astounding sums of money. (Another rule of journalism is to illustrate the significance of an amount. E.g., an “astounding” sum of money is a lot more than you make now.)

Journalists are not particularly known for their prowess with numbers. Once upon a time, they were paired with creatures known as “copy editors.” Copy editors died out en masse during the Great Media Consolidation of the ’90s. The few that remain are mostly at small-town newspapers, attempting to avoid the stylistic, factual, grammatical and spelling horror that is the Internet.

Neither is Washington, D.C. a hotbed of people who are sticklers for accurate details, i.e., copy editors. It is a hotbed of attorneys. Attorneys are people who could afford to go on to law school. Law schools are places where the mathematically disinclined go to make astounding sums of money with the crafty use of just words!!! (If you are in journalism school right now, please write that down where you will not forget it.)

Now, attorneys believe they are smarter than you. They may not be, but that doesn’t matter. Your Nobel Prize in physics is meaningless in the perceptual world of attorneys, because they are the original practitioners of “The Secret.” They visualize their smartness and so they are. Violà! They know, for example, that if they toss numbers around like confetti, you are not going to pick up a pencil.

And so it is with our friends in Washington who are agitating, nay, evangelizing--nay, an even more emphatic word--for the reassignment of TV broadcast spectrum for broadband. The folks at the Consumer Electronics Association, whose members stand to make a quadrillion dollars from the reassignment, launched a “Spectrum Crunch Clock” this week “to help Americans visualize the economic costs of delay in spectrum reform.” (Note: A quadrillion is a lot. “Visualization” denotes attorneys applying “The Secret.”)

The “clock” is actually a large red-letter graphic depicting an ever-increasing sum of money. This sum is allegedly how much money is being wasted because “intense lobbying by broadcast television stations has stalled progress on this vital program.” Except for broadcasters haven’t stalled squat. The process is pretty much in line with the agenda put forth by the Federal Communications Commission in April of 2010.

Broadcasters did manage to get an extra seven whole days to comment on the spectrum reassignment docket, because the original period closed the Monday after the National Association of Broadcasters Show in Las Vegas. If seven days is all they got as a result of “intense lobbying,” someone’s not spending enough on cigars.

But again, we are working with attorney math, and not copy-editor math, which is how the CEA determined that this delay is costing the country $14,444 a minute. Because if you take the $33 billion number made up by other attorneys to express the value of the sought-after broadcast spectrum, and you divide it with pie,SpectrumCrunchClock2 carry the fore and multiply it all by magic ponies, you get $14,444 a minute. But you don’t know, do you?

Neither does the CEA, dog bless ‘em. Because the Spectrum Crunch Clock read $33,172,494,881 yesterday. Today, it says $8.4 billion and change, or roughly the payroll of 2,208 broadcast TV stations and networks according to the 2007 Economic Census, which also indicates nearly $36 billion in receipts for the survey period. Using the institutionally approved mathematics of Washington, D.C., that means stripping spectrum away from broadcasters will cost the country $3 billion.

Stayed tuned to McAdams On for more fun with numbers. Because I’m sure there will be.
~ Deborah D. McAdams

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Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Sat, 05-07-2011 07:11 AM Report Comment
Everyone makes mistaeks. The ATSC is going to be meeting soon to consider developing the next standard for DTV. There's a chance it could be a cellular-type system based on the 3GPP LTE broadcast/multicast standard. If that happens it could result in much more than 120 MHz of TV spectrum becoming available for mobile broadband. It makes sense for that process to near completion rather than rush through a repacking of TV spectrum now, and then have to immediately do it all over again with a completely new cellular TV standard. While we're waiting for that industry process to complete, the US can complete a spectrum inventory as outlined in the Snow-Kerry RADIOS Act. There is more to radio and spectrum than mobile broadband. Machine-to-machine networks, personal area networks, smart grid, body area networks, and more, all of which will benefit from additional spectrum, as will CEA members involved in those and other activities. For those bidding on TV spectrum, I'd think the reduced risk from fresh knowledge of the spectrum landscape would result in higher bids, perhaps beyond the $34 billion estimated. I hope CEA's (and it's predecessor's) primary focus on shrinking the broadcast industry doesn't distract too much from other important public policy matters. I am personally disappointed by CEA's lack of participation in FCC ET Docket 10-236 on revised experimental licensing rules, an area important to the many CEA members that engage in experimental radio activity in the US. Innovation is a core theme in that proceeding, with the FCC determining that the non-profit sector is the primary source of wireless innovation. Those commenting could have used CEA's support in countering that view. That said, I appreciate CEA's other hard work on behalf of the industry. Steve Crowley
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Fri, 05-06-2011 05:44 PM Report Comment
Deb, Thanks for a lighthearted Friday night reminder that computers only do what they are told to do. In this case, we made a mistake by programming in the total amount of spectrum auction revenue that the U.S. Treasury will receive (between $33 and $34 billion, according to the CEA/CTIA study that stands unrebutted on the record) and the clock started counting from there. We fixed it within minutes of being notified of the error, and it now properly shows the increasing costs to American consumers of the broadcaster delay. (And yes, it is broadcaster delay they have successfully blocked, thus far, movement forward on the auctions.) I'm sure our broadcaster friends will also have fun with this fleeting (and now resolved) technical glitch it helps them avoid addressing the larger point that with fewer than 10% of Americans relying on over-the-air TV, broadcasters are sitting on huge swathes of underused spectrum that is readily usable to address our nation's spectrum crisis. And by the way, I was on my high school math team, but apparently going to law school killed off any latent skills if you can suggest a remedial math class, I'm eager to sign up. Jason Oxman SVP, Industry Affairs Consumer Electronics Association
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Fri, 05-06-2011 07:30 PM Report Comment
Jason, I still smell a cigar somewhere . . .
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Fri, 05-06-2011 08:01 PM Report Comment
OK, let me offer you the most dreaded thing in all of math, a "word problem": .... Broadcasting is a one-to-many application of spectrum. Even a fairly low rated show in a middling market may have tens of thousands of viewers. Broadband is one-to-one, but uses the spectrum over a smaller area, like a cell phone site, and perhaps also less than the 6 MHz of a TV channel per user. But if you take away that TV channel and divvy it up into broadband, could it really be used by more people than used to watch the TV station? So there's the challenge: Come up with realistic numbers for that. Could it be that underused broadband spectrum should be reassigned to TV?
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Sat, 05-07-2011 02:33 AM Report Comment
But Deborah, it seems to me TV stations caused this in the first place. The whole problem is lobbyists. Politicians love lobbyists because it gives them money to buy expensive broadcast ads. I mean yeah: Kxxx may have made a cool $10 million from attack ads that compared a politician to a Socialist Dugong Sea Cow, but the politician had to fight back. I am not looking forward to 2012. In fact, I may toss my TV out the window just to avoid the constant re-running of attack ads. It seems to me that it's in the public interest, and in the interest of TV stations to limit what ads get aired. In fact, how about a "lobbyist cam" that tracks all the money that goes under the table? -Duke & Banner

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