COMMENTARY: Routing White Space Invaders

The broadcast lobby ballyhooed the failure of yet another white space device test at the FCC this week. Dennis Wharton, executive spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters proffered the following statement:

“In baseball, it’s three strikes and you’re out. How many strikes does Microsoft get? If they can’t get the device to work in the lab, how are they going to get it to work in the real world?”

I like Dennis Wharton. Dennis Wharton is a friend of mine, and I’m no Dennis Wharton. He makes a valid point. Yet validity has little if anything to do with the drive to launch unlicensed communication devices in the buffer spectrum between TV channels known as “white spaces.”

That spectrum is money waiting to happen. Demand for broadband conduits is insatiable. Consumption of personal electronics gizmos is fever pitched and heating by the moment. Bygone is the era when people engaged fully in the moment at hand. There will soon be a popular surgery to implant cochlear transmission devices. We will all be hearing voices in our heads.

Neither bad manners nor bad science nor a bad economy will stop a good business model. The cost of entry in this case is nominal. No multibillion dollar spectrum costs; some lines of code, a couple of patents, a minor retooling of a Sino-assembly line and, voila! ...a market full of broadband TV Web phone GPS camcorder MP3 radar-sensing transceivers in scarlet, platinum and midnight blue.

The players comprise another very important factor driving the invasion of white spaces. Google, Microsoft, Intel, Hewlett-Packard and Dell have a combined market cap rivaling the gross domestic product of The Netherlands--16th among nations. With a little nudging, the big four networks have the combined market cap/valuation of New Zealand's GDP--No. 53.

Say, The Netherlands declares war on New Zealand. Say that New Zealand’s defense consists of press releases reading, “No Fair!” and “Ha Ha, You Missed.” Meanwhile, the Dutch recalibrate their missile systems while the New Zealanders invoke the rules of engagement for a national sport under federal investigation.

Even the most miserable chess player can perceive the flaws of this strategy. One might argue that it’s unsustainable, like, for example, multicast must-carry.

With a few exceptions, the broadcast television industry seems to be clinging to the very status quo that threatens to destroy it. As long as the medium remains wire and satellite dependent, its arguments against white space invasion are disingenuous. There are people who believe no one relies solely on broadcast TV signals. One is Gary Shapiro, who runs the Consumer Electronics Association, the “coolest” lobby in Washington, D.C., as far as what constitutes coolness in that venue.

By next year, when analog broadcast signals must be shut down, Shapiro estimates that six people will be watching TV with rabbit ears, and they will all be on a bass boat with Jimmy Houston, watching Jimmy Houston.

There are even more people who have no idea what broadcast television is; many of whom pitch stories to Television Broadcast magazine. We seek stories and information about call letter TV stations in the United States, they are told. They bring us Scripps Networks.

What baffles a lot of observers, yours truly included, is how the marketing opportunity inherent in the digital transition is just sitting there doing nothing. Forget broadcast TV. Never say “broadcast” again, or at least relegate it to denote a mysterious secret sect of people who propagate wireless media transmissions.

Wireless TV! Multiple channels! Most popular shows available! Highest HD resolution possible! Free!

Why is this so difficult?

With apologies to The Netherlands and New Zealand, which Television Broadcast believes to be far more clever than the aforescribed analogy permits. E-mail your comments to Deborah D. McAdams at