Broadcast Lobby Calls for Spectrum Inventory
WASHINGTON: The broadcast lobby is asking for a spectrum inventory once again after previous efforts failed to secure Congressional action. Gordon Smith, president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters, fired off a letter to co-chairs of the Federal Spectrum Working Group calling for a count.
“Unfortunately, neither Congress nor the American people have a clear understanding of what spectrum is being used, by whom and for what purpose,” Smith wrote to Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), co-chairs of the group. “As the government moves forward with broadcast incentive auctions, NAB respectfully requests that Congress be vigilant in safeguarding the rights of our local TV viewers during the process and further suggests that all spectrum license holders be held accountable for their use of valuable airwaves.”
Earlier this year, Congress authorized the Federal Communications Commission to conduct incentive auctions in which broadcasters would receive a portion of proceeds in return for voluntarily relinquishing spectrum. The NAB and other broadcast advocates unsuccessfully pressed for an inventory before that authorization was provided. Smith is resurrecting the issue following an article in The New York Times disputing claims of a “spectrum crisis.” The piece cites Martin Cooper, inventor of the cellphone and former vice president of Motorola, and David Isenberg, formerly of AT&T Labs Research, among others who said advanced technologies and new spectrum management methods would avert a shortage. However, implementing those strategies is not what wireless companies are after, they said.
“Their primary interest is not necessarily in making spectrum available, or in making wireless performance better. They want to make money,” the Times quoted Isenberg as saying.
In his letter to Guthrie and Matsui, Smith also noted that Citigroup questioned spectrum crisis claims last year. Jason Bazinet and Michael Rollins of Citigroup said they did “not believe the U.S. faces a spectrum shortage.” The wireless industry insists otherwise, however, and has federal regulators working on its behalf to provide more spectrum for wireless services.
In addition to these developments, it has also come to light that Verizon, Comcast, Dish Network and others hold significant quantities of undeveloped spectrum. Verizon most recently said it would sell the spectrum it won in the 2008 auctions of TV UHF channels to gain regulatory approval for the acquisition of preferable spectrum from a group of cable companies.
“These developments starkly demonstrate the lack of objective information when it comes to U.S. spectrum policy,” Smith wrote. “... without a full inventory and complete accounting of how spectrum is being deployed, how can we be certain that claims of a spectrum ‘crisis’ are valid? Are wireless companies simply hoarding spectrum to limit completion?”
Matsui and Guthrie was put in charge of the Federal Spectrum Working Group last month when it was formed by Reps. Anna Eschoo (D-Calif.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.) “to examine how the federal government can use the nation’s airwaves more efficiently,” according to Eshoo. Members include Reps. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), Steve Scalise (R-La.), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), John Barrow (D-Ga.), and Donna Christensen (D-V.I.). Walden, chairman of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, and Eshoo, ranking member, will serve as ex-officio members.
Smith noted in his missive that the Working Group was formed primarily to examine how federal agencies use spectrum, but he urged them to include private sector use as well. Several spectrum inventory bills were introduced in Congress and in the Senate over the past two years, but none reached a full vote before FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced that a “baseline” inventory had been done. That baseline inventory was never made public. Sinclair Broadcasting maintained the press for an inventory despite Genachowski’s claims.
“America cannot get this back after it is sold. Congress should postpone any auction considerations until after a thorough spectrum audit is completed,” Sinclair’s Mark Aitken said last November, before auction authority was granted. The NAB had dropped the matter by then, but in light of recent “spectrum-crisis” counterclaims, Smith again took up the cause.
“If this country is truly facing what many are calling a spectrum ‘crisis,’ then Congress should require a comprehensive inventory that details who is using spectrum today,” he wrote.
~ Deborah D. McAdams
Smith’s letter to Guthrie and Matsui.
“Carriers Warn of Crisis in Mobile Spectrum,” The New York Times, April 17, 2012
from TV Technology:
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June 20, 2011: “Congressman Asks FCC To Explain Its Spectrum Analysis Model”
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July 14, 2010: “FCC Chief Tells Lawmakers Spectrum Inventory is Underway”
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November 17, 2009: “Spectrum Comments Pour Into FCC”
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