Who gets the pot of gold?

Yet again, all around the world, the arguments regarding spectrum allocation have come to the fore. Television had it easy in the early days, as broadcasters had access to the expansive VHF and UHF spectrums. The only other users were the military and public services — police and fire.

Those days have changed now that mobile operators eye the spectrum as a means to carry new services, whether entertainment or commercial voice and data. We all expect to get data on the move and not just in the office, just as the cell phone has become an essential accessory to the modern lifestyle.

Government treasuries look at spectrum as a resource to be auctioned. A free auction could deliver the greatest revenues, but could broadcasters compete with the newer applications? This raises a further question: What do the electorate want? Do they want more television, or the convenience of wireless devices, at home or at work?

Enter the professional lobbyist. Spectrum is raw material for the broadcaster and the mobile service operator alike. There is no spectrum slot and no business, and it looks like the competition for the slots could get fiercer.

Outside the treasury departments, other areas of the government have a different agenda. Do they keep business or the electorate sweet? A free auction could upset the public and sectors of business. Should regulators reserve areas of spectrum for different sectors of business? No government will absolve itself of all control; there is always space reserved for the military and emergency services.

Broadcasters have long been in the business of communicating to the public and are in prime position to lobby for the protection of their spectrum slots. What of the other possible spectrum users waiting in the wings? How will they sell the potential benefits of their wireless services to the public?

Of course there is no right answer to all the questions. It depends on whether you are a busy executive on the move and need good data connections or a big-time TV viewer. It depends on your views of government control versus relying on the market.

The spectrum allocation is a potential minefield for a government. If there were an unforeseen demand by existing services, such as security, how would you reclaim spectrum, and what would be the implications? What about new technologies that are not yet commercial applications but could develop in the future? Where do they get wireless slots?

When the cellular networks evolved, there was more space, but now less is available. Small, fragmented user groups, such as sound crews using radio microphones, cannot compete for spectrum in a commercial marketplace. Should they be opportunistic users of temporary gaps, or should they be allocated slots?

There is clearly a need for regulators to carefully consider all these questions before rushing into auctions. Otherwise, in 10 or 20 years time, we could be regretting the decisions we made today. Many governments, with their sights set on that auction revenue, cannot resist the temptation — hang the future.

As broadcasters, you must actively lobby the regulators to ensure that all these issues are thoroughly aired before the politicians auction the family silver.

Send comments to:editor@broadcastengineeringworld.com