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Amended spectrum proposal gives broadcasters role in broadband future

The odd thing about the National Broadband Plan, says Jimmy Goodmon, vice president and general manager of CBC New Media Group, is that its proponents see the future of innovation by nearly every industry in America as dependent upon its implementation.

“But there’s one industry that’s not. There’s one industry that’s actually put back — it’s set back in time — and that’s the broadcast industry,” Goodmon says.

What Goodmon says he wants is “a fair shake” for TV broadcasters. Rather than simply being a repository of spectrum the government can tap whenever wireless carriers want more to meet mobile broadband demand, Goodmon says he envisions broadcasters as central to resolving the inherent weakness of the wireless industry in delivering broadband service, namely the industry’s unicast approach to transmission of high-bandwidth video content.

In a phone interview last week with Broadcast Engineering, Goodmon laid out the details of what he’s dubbed “an amended National Broadband Plan,” which his father Jim Goodmon, president and CEO of Capitol Broadcasting, presented in an overview to the Media Access Project March 11.

Goodmon’s amended plan is rooted in a more accurate characterization of what the commission sees as a looming spectrum shortage, he says. In his view, the United States isn’t facing a future spectrum shortage; it’s facing a bandwidth problem.

This is more than mere semantics, Goodmon says. In the United States, three things determine bandwidth: spectrum, the technology used in that spectrum and government policy and regulation.

“Throwing spectrum at the bandwidth problem doesn’t solve the problem,” he says, “because without taking the other two pieces of the equation into account, it is impossible to get at what’s causing the shortage.

“Video is the problem. It is going to be what clogs up the bandwidth long term,” he says. “It’s not people going to and looking at the front page or and looking at our front page; it’s not people texting; it’s not people sending photos. It’s video; people watching video,” Goodmon says.

Goodmon proposes addressing the problem over several years with a set of clearly defined goals. The first, years one to three of the plan, would entail a spectrum analysis being conducted to determine what spectrum is in use and what isn’t, as well as which services can and can’t be relocated.

During this period, Goodmon also proposes launching a working group consisting of members of the broadcast and wireless industries as well as FCC employees with the goal of identifying “the technical and network structures” that would let the broadband and broadcast industries collaboratively solve the bandwidth problem, he says.

“For instance, let’s say this technology allows us to smartly shift network data loads to broadcast or unicast based on user demand,” he says. “There is no reason to send a high-demand piece of content over and over again in a unicast mode when you can offload it to a broadcast push environment. Then you solve the bandwidth problem.”

In years three to five, Goodmon envisions a transition plan being put in place for the next step in digital broadcast technology evolution. Included in that plan would be repacking spectrum.

“The idea would be that maybe there are unforeseen approaches to the infrastructure and network design that would permit broadcasters to service our communities in better ways and also do so in less spectrum,” he says. Years five to 10 would be for deployment of the new technology, repacking the spectrum and auctioning off spectrum.

Taking this approach creates several benefits, Goodmon says.

“One, broadcasting now is part of the solution to the problem,” he says. Secondly, this approach creates greater value for the government by waiting for the demand for spectrum to catch up with the supply of spectrum, which “increases the value of that spectrum manifold,” he says.

Goodmon also proposes selling broadcast spectrum on a market-by-market basis, rather than through regional or national auctions. A massive auction on a national basis prevents local interests, such as broadcasters, from bidding on the spectrum, but a local auction creates more bidders.

“You hold a local auction, and guess who is going to be participating: Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and broadcasters like me,” he says. “You’d have a lot more people interested and involved.” Presumably, the greater the interest and the larger the number of bidders, the greater the value created for the government.

One final benefit is creating an annuity for the U.S. Treasury from the annual 5 percent fee on revenues derived from spectrum use other than broadcasting, he says.

“We believe this plan is a more appropriate, more prudent way to approach this problem,” he adds.

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.