Broadcasters: Use Spectrum for Public Interest, not Revenue Raising

Responding to a call from the FCC for comment on its long-term spectrum policies, the NAB and the Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV) attacked the commission's oft-stated philosophy that auctions are the best way to determine the best use of the public airwaves.

The groups' joint comments to the FCC's newly appointed Spectrum Policy Task Force claim that allocating spectrum on the basis of revenue maximization is forbidden by the Communications Act of 1934 and is bad policy to boot.

Broadcasters have long criticized the government's expectation of revenue from spectrum auctions - particularly the feds' desire to reclaim broadcasters' analog spectrum at the end of the digital television transition - saying that such a process is counter to the public interest.

"With so many beneficial services vying for blocks of spectrum, hard choices are inevitable," the groups said in a 21-page statement. "The idea that these broad choices about how to allocate spectrum could be left mostly or entirely to market mechanisms is wishful thinking. There is no deus ex machina that can take the place of the commission in making these major spectrum allocation decisions in a manner that genuinely serves the public interest."

Mobile phone operators' comments, in contrast, favor a stricter adherence to market forces and license by auctions.

The NAB and MSTV also recommended greater flexibility for incumbent spectrum holders to provide new services alongside existing services; greater protection from interference; and a policy allowing licensees to benefit from their improvements in spectrum efficiency.

They also advocated an FCC role in ensuring quality receiving devices for radio waves, repeating their longstanding advocacy of including digital receivers in new television sets.

About 140 groups, companies and individuals answered the FCC's call for comment on spectrum policy. The task force is scheduled to give recommendations to the FCC by October.