Battle for Control of Airwaves Intensifies

WASHINGTON: The broadcast and wireless lobbies briefly played nice this week to jointly oppose new spectrum fees, but the battle to control the airwaves waged on in the background. A consultant to the wireless industry today released a “counter analysis” to recently released Citigroup research refuting a spectrum shortage.

“Relative to my own analysis, the spectral-efficiency values used in the Citi report are incorrect to a significant degree, and hence much of the technical analysis and related conclusions are also incorrect,” wrote Peter Rysavy of Rysavy Research, a Hood River, Ore.-based wireless consultancy. “In particular, the bottom line conclusion that Citi arrives at ‘We do not believe the U.S. faces a spectrum shortage’ is invalid because it is predicated on the incorrect analysis that 4G technologies have six times more capacity than they really do.”

The Citi research said that if all the spectrum now licensed by wireless carriers were converted to newer, IP-based 4G technology, it could support 5 Mbps at 10 percent simultaneous usage. Rysavy said the figure would actually be less than 1 Mbps--and less efficient than older 3G technology--based on the model City used.

Rysavy said Citi’s analysis assumes that 4G technology is 400 percent more efficient than 3G, when indeed he said it’s only 50 percent more efficient. The International Telecommunications Union requires 3G to provide peak downloads speeds of at least 200 kbps, and 4G to provide at least 100 Mbps, but no 4G services have met that criteria.

Rysavy said his consultancy had published 12 spectrum-efficiency analyses since 2002, the most recent being last month, in cooperation with companies represented on the 4G Americas board of governors. The 4G board of governors includes executives from AT&T, T-Mobile and Qualcomm, among others.

The Citigroup analysts also noted that U.S. wireless carriers today have spectrum licenses comprising 538 MHz, but that they’re using only 192 MHz. Yet the wireless industry’s mantra is that a “looming spectrum crises” will constrain future broadband deployment. The Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan is predicated in part on this assumption, and calls for reassigning 40 percent of the TV spectrum to wireless providers.

The National Association of Broadcasters jumped on the Citi report. NAB chief Gordon Smith fired off a letter citing it to members of the supercommittee Oct. 5.

“Citigroup’s analysis suggests that ‘spectrum crises’ claims that have been manufactured by the wireless and consumer electronics industries--and advanced by the FCC--simply do not withstand scrutiny,” Smith wrote.

He urged lawmakers to fully vetshortage claims before authorizing the reassignment of TV spectrum. The NAB also papered Capitol Hill with ads featuring the Citigroup research quote about the U.S. not facing a spectrum shortage.

The Consumer Electronics Association and CTIA-The Wireless Association, predictably fumed and spit. The CEA’s Michael Petricone said the “NAB’s desperate and fanciful assertion that there is no spectrum crisis runs contrary to physics and facts.”

The CTIA’s Jot Carpenter said, “The NAB has consistently misrepresented the facts, with their efforts becoming more desperate as time goes on. The looming spectrum crisis is a fact.”

Amid the war of words, the supercommittee was said to be considering individual elements of the president’s stalled jobs bill, including $4 billion in new spectrum fees over the next decade. The NAB and the CTIA stopped kicking sand at each other long enough to wail, “noooo,” new spectrum fees. Both were co-signatories on an Oct. 12 letter to supercommittee members opposing such fees. They were joined by the National Religious Broadcasters, the Satellite Industry Association and PCIA-The Wireless Infrastructure Foundation.

“We are acutely mindful of the economic challenges confronting Congress and the country,” they wrote. “We do not believe, however, that the solution to unemployment lies in the imposition of new fees and taxes that will inevitably shift money from much needed capital investment in state-of-the-art communications technologies critical to the health of the American economy.”

Nearly every year, spectrum fees are proposed and ultimately abandoned, but Congress needs money like never before to give itself raises. If lawmakers don’t pursue spectrum fees, they are likely to pursue incentive auction authority. The FCC can’t just kick broadcasters off the airwaves under current statute. Thus, the plan is to offer broadcasters who voluntarily hand over spectrum a split of the subsequent auction proceeds. The commission can’t do that without Congressional authority.

The Hill reported this week that Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is recommending auction authority be adopted in the supercommittee’s deficit reduction plan.
~ Deborah D. McAdams