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LEARN Me This
1/30/2013

NEW, IMPROVED— The FCC’s new website on the TV spectrum incentive auctions is everything one would expect from a Madison Avenue firm selling soap. It has the clean lines and floating graphics that welcome the reader rather than overwhelm them with pesky details. The site is purported to be part of the commission’s LEARN program— Learn Everything About Reverse-Auctions Now—aimed at broadcasters. Here’s the title: “A Groundbreaking Event for the Broadcast Television, Mobile Wireless and Technology Sectors of the U.S. Economy.”

Below, a bevy of regulators in tights and puffy knee britches blows a trumpet fanfare.

To be fair-ish, this manifestation of the Julius Genachowski FCC is noticeably more restrained than past endeavors launched with 500-word flourishes about “unleashing” spectrum to save the world. That alone gives rise to suspicion, when something presented as informational begins with a litany of uncited factoids and no acknowledgement of evidence to the contrary.

I appreciate that the FCC is trying to present the process as simply as possible. However, simplicity is incongruent with selling off an undetermined amount of TV spectrum and repacking the frequency band. An over-simplified presentation is a whitewash of what the affected industries and the public are in for. E.g., one of the questions in the FAQ section poses the following: “Will I lose my over-the-air broadcast television?”

The answer given is a definitive, “No.” The commission cannot guarantee this, especially if it secures the 120 MHz of spectrum it seeks to turn over to wireless companies. It’s misleading not to say that loss of service is a distinct possibility.

The incentive auction process should not be undertaken with the type of magical thinking that defined 1980 management styles and denied all possibility of undesired outcomes. If the architects of this endeavor truly believe it is necessary for the nation, then they would not be averse to acknowledging the negative possibilities.

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