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Broadband Plan Includes Over-the-Air TV

At this week's Open Commission Meeting, the FCC task force for developing a National Broadband Plan presented an interim report [PDF] highlighting the framework, principles and preliminary options for the plan. The presentation listed options under consideration for providing more spectrum for broadband, and as expected, TV spectrum is at the top of the list of proposals submitted to be explored, but with a caveat about retaining television broadcasting.

TV spectrum is not specifically mentioned anywhere else in the presentation, with one exception--TV white space.

Within the plan's "Spectrum Policy Guiding Principles," the task force leaves open the option that market forces may not be the only consideration, as "market forces should be applied to all bands, though other policy objectives should play a role in allocation decisions."

Cable TV providers are also likely to be affected by the National Broadband Plan.

The interim report notes that the delivery of Internet video to television sets could drive higher broadband adoption and utilization (99 percent of households have TV receivers, as opposed to 79 percent with computers), as new applications and uses emerge.

To speed the convergence of television and the Internet, the interim report proposes opening the set-top box market to greater competition and innovation. Specifically, the options under consideration include directly addressing "current barriers to implementation of CableCard, including bundling provisioning, pricing and billing," and mandating a home gateway device by requiring MVPDs to provide a small and low-cost device for bridging proprietary MVPD network elements (conditional access, tuning and reception functions) to a common open standard for home communications interfaces

Such a development would enable a retail navigation device to operate on all MVPD platforms.

A section titled "The Future of Media" makes the following observations:

  • • Universal broadband is important for ensuring that the new media landscape benefits all Americans.
  • • The spread of Internet access has undermined established media business models and triggered an explosion of innovation in the media space.
  • • The Broadband Plan will assess the impacts of the universal broadband strategy both on commercial media and the public media licensees.

The changes being considered in the interim report, if adopted, will take years to implement. It seems very unlikely that the TV business broadcasters envisioned at the start of the DTV transition will be around 10 years from now. As the slide I described above implies, once everyone is connected to broadband and capable of receiving video over it, a broadcast license won't be needed to reach a local or nationwide audience.

Two of the many justifications for maintaining spectrum for TV broadcasting is the broadcasters' ability to use it to provide video content to one or a million people with the same amount of bandwidth and their experience and technical capability to deliver local news, sports, and weather and, in times of disaster, to provide life-saving information on the location of tornadoes, the path of hurricanes and open or blocked highways and other critical information.

Providing such information immediately to portable devices—cell phones, laptops and inexpensive battery-operated TV receivers—without depending on an infrastructure that may be disrupted or overloaded in an emergency or requiring a URL or a Google search is certainly worth something.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.