Commentary: Broadcasters and the Need for Public Safety Spectrum

There was little news for this report from the FCC last week, but the House of Representatives was busy with a hearing on "The Spectrum Needs of Our Nation's First Responders." Broadcasters using the 24 MHz of spectrum allocated for public safety use may find their analog licenses revoked on or shortly after the December 2006 deadline. Adjacent channels may be affected as well. Also, a Los Angeles Times article that was widely printed in other newspapers criticized the use of spectrum for over the air TV. The story below has a link to the article.

Both articles show increasing pressure to free up some or all of the entire broadcast spectrum for other uses. I doubt critics will be successful in driving TV broadcasters from the airwaves. The comments from the community reported in last week's RF Report showed there was a demand for free over-the-air broadcasting, especially for portable TV sets. I can, however, see increasing pressure to speed up the DTV transition and the distinct possibility Congress will revise the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 that allowed analog broadcasting to continue in a market past December 2006 until 85 percent of the households had the ability to receive DTV signals. What is most likely to happen is a new deadline will be set past December 2006 but possibly as early as 2007 or 2008, when all analog TV would have to shut down, even if the 85 percent threshold was not met. While it is possible the criteria may be changed to make the 85 percent easier to obtain or other steps will be taken to speed the transition, I do think that a new firm deadline will be the eventual outcome of the debates. The reason is that future users of the new spectrum want a date certain when they will be able to use it and as long as there are conditions that could modify the date, planning for use of the spectrum and obtaining equipment is difficult, as pointed out in last week's testimony in the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.

In this scenario, the future of over-the-air broadcasting will depend on consumer electronics manufacturers bringing to market low-cost DTV sets that will meet the needs for portable reception described by the commenters. It appears we may have a little as four or five years to see this happen.