Having Spectrum and Eating It, Too

Deborah McAdams is the Executive Editor of TV Technology.

I was at the National Association of Broadcasters Show this year, surrounded by people whose livelihoods depend in large part on the preservation of spectrum dedicated to, you know... broadcasting. So either I was missing something or it was truly ironic that just about everywhere I went, people were using smartphones or talking about transmitting news footage on wireless broadband connections.

“Well, I’m just texting,” one friend in the business told me. “It’s just data.”

So it was, and by the looks of it, about 50,000 other folks were just texting at the Las Vegas Convention Center at any given time. I can’t remember the last time I saw a room full of people at a panel discussion looking at the panelists rather than a cellphone screen. When was the last time we collectively paid attention to something? I don’t know, because I wasn’t paying attention. Sometimes it’s better that way. When you start paying attention, you realize that what people say and what they do are often unrelated, as in diametrically opposed.

It seems, for example, that defending the use of spectrum for broadcasting while using the public Internet to transmit video is a bit, say, contradictory. I know it makes sense, per se. A Wi-Fi backpack is probably a bit less costly than a satellite ENG truck. At least in the short run. But it also feeds the demand for more broadband spectrum, which the federal government intends to fill with broadcast spectrum. Thus, TV stations will have a ton of great news clips, just no place to air them.

The current argument against wholesale spectrum redesignation is that wireless broadband technologies can be made much more efficient. Right now, it doesn’t behoove the wireless companies to focus on new spectrum-efficient technologies.

But it sure does makes sense for broadcasters.