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FCC chairman says repacking spectrum won't affect Mobile DTV

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski told Congress last week that the commission’s repacking of broadcast spectrum after incentive auctions would not endanger mobile digital television. Instead, he said, it is the marketplace that will decide whether mobile digital television is a success or failure.

Genachowski made the comments at a hearing of House Financial Services and General Government subcommittee hearing commission’s budget. They were triggered by a question from Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.), who asked the chairman what the FCC was doing to insure the protection of mobile DTV when it repacks broadcast spectrum.

Stating that he had given broadcasters previous assurances about mobile DTV, Genachowski said the commission encouraged innovative uses of spectrum and noted that his previous promise to broadcasters would stand. It will be the marketplace, not the FCC, that will decide whether mobile DTV is success or failure, he said.

Genachowski was probably wise not to step into the quagmire over mobile DTV, since its destiny may play out before repacking even occurs. Last week, the Pew Research Center report of the state of news media for 2012 noted that mobile DTV “didn’t materialize” as predicted in 2011.

“Some broadcasters expected 2011 to be a breakout year for mobile broadcast television, but it did not happen,” the Pew report said. A coalition of a dozen major broadcast groups is still working on plans to broadcast free digital signals to portable devices.

“But apparently hurdles remain, including how to measure usage for advertising purposes, how to manage rights fees for sports events and other programs, and how to persuade device manufacturers to install TV broadcast receivers,” Brian Bracco, vice president of news at Hearst Television, told Pew Research. Other observers said it could be at least another year before those problems are worked out.

In the meantime, broadcasters are looking for other ways to offer video that is as mobile as the audience. Scripps-owned stations in nine markets now offer a free mobile app that can deliver live streaming content to smartphones and tablets during breaking news or severe weather.