Brad Dick Editorial Director /
02.01.2011
Originally featured on BroadcastEngineering.com
It's all about the money
Editorial director Brad Dick discusses the FCC’s decision to delay the approval of an experimental license for a new DTV system proposed by SpectrumEvolution.org and the possible motives behind it.

What if a technology was available that was developed, highly refined, widely established and could support the transmission of SD, HD and multichannel, as well as video for mobile? What if that technology also was less susceptible to multipath than 8-VSB? Suppose more than 330 cities were already using the technology with an estimated 20 million devices deployed, some of which could be purchased for $20? Wouldn't you be interested in at least testing the solution as a possible option for U.S. broadcasters?

The FCC isn't.

The advocacy group SpectrumEvolution.org applied for an experimental license in late 2010 to put a five-cell, four-channel, OFDM-based DTV system on the air in the Portland, OR, area. Unfortunately, instead of the license going through a process that would normally require just staff approval, it has been denied and forwarded to the chairman for further consideration. In other words, the request for what is normally a staff-level decision has been stonewalled.

Greg Herman, president of SpectrumEvolution.org, in mid-November went to the FCC's office and conducted a live OTA demonstration for representatives of the commission's Office of Engineering and Technology. The presentation included the transmission of seven video streams to some 20 working consumer devices via Converged Multimedia Mobile Broadcasting (CMMB).

Herman calls CMMB a significant improvement over the decade-old 8-VSB modulation scheme. According to Herman, CMMB is approximately four times more efficient in terms of digital throughput compared to ATSC-M/H for the delivery of mobile broadband-broadcast services. Yet despite what appear to be good reasons to move forward with tests, the FCC is saying no.

Could Chairman Julius Genachowski's hand be at work here?

Responding to an Oct. 20 op-ed article by Genachowski in The Washington Post, communications attorney Peter Tannenwald wrote, “But (Genachowski's) perceptions of the need for broadband and how to meet it are both misguided and backward-looking.” Said Tannenwald, “That means promptly unleashing broadcasters from today's TV technical standards, which the FCC can do on its own with no congressional action. Freeing broadcasters from technical constraints will produce a much faster and more effective broadband result than the chairman's spectrum ‘repurposing’ plan. In other words, the question is not whether spectrum should be used for broadband OR broadcasting, but whether and when the FCC will allow it to be used for broadband AND broadcasting.”

Some broadcasters might be eager to try out some new solutions in today's changing marketplace; however, the FCC appears focused on preventing the development of any new ideas that might delay Genachowski's goal of selling broadcast spectrum.

In a Jan. 14 interview with Broadcast Engineering, Herman said, “There can be no reason to deny (SpectrumEvolution.org) the ability to do the necessary field test work but for fear that we might succeed and/or a perception that the government will not profit as much from our technology as it might from incentive auctions that would shut down broadcast services. Success should never be feared.”

Mr. Herman, your success is exactly what Genachowski does fear. His goal is to sell spectrum, reaping billions, and your ideas just might get in the way. From the chairman's viewpoint, it's better for you to just shut up and go away.

As is often the case, it's all about the money.

Send comments to: editor@broadcastengineering.com



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