End of over-the-air TV

Are we at the beginning of the end of over-the-air broadcast television? Some might argue that free-over-the-air broadcast TV has been on its way out as a result of the DTV conversion. But late last year, the FCC took a new turn toward accelerating television's demise by proposing to repurpose at least part of the spectrum currently used by television stations. This initiative took the form of notices of inquiry looking toward use of TV frequencies by wireless Internet providers and the migration of TV to the Internet. Specifically, new proceedings launched in December asked for data on current use of TV spectrum and ideas on how to encourage more video distribution via the Internet.

Spectrum use

The unusually short three-week time period allowed for comments on the major spectrum issues the FCC has raised begged the question as to whether the agency has already made up its mind to support the wireless raid on broadcast spectrum. As evidence of this bias, the FCC spectrum inquiry notice referenced a joint letter from the heads of CTIA-The Wireless Association and the Consumer Electronics Association, urging the commission to begin considering the TV spectrum for reassignment to the wireless industry.

In the context of its information gathering on spectrum use, the FCC asks, “What would be the impact to the U.S. economy if insufficient additional spectrum were made available for wireless broadband deployment, in terms of investments, jobs, consumer welfare, innovation and other indicators of global leadership?” Contrast that with the followup question: “What would be the impact to the U.S. economy and public welfare if the coverage of free over-the-air broadcast television was diminished to accommodate a repacking of stations to recover spectrum?”

There is no doubt where the FCC is going with this, and there should not be given the oft-stated goal of Julius Genachowski, the current chairman, to significantly improve broadband capabilities and make wireless Internet services universally available.

In its spectrum inquiry proceeding, the FCC notes that broadcast television is delivered to a vast majority of consumers via cable and satellite, not over the air. In an effort to appear even-handed, the FCC's inquiry then asks what impact the demise of broadcast TV might have on such things as “public awareness of emergency information, local news, political discourse and education?” One can only guess what the answers will be from broadcasters, but the issue the FCC's questions beg is why it would be seeking information it already has except to feign impartiality in the looming broadcaster vs. wireless battle that its new inquiry proceedings have spawned.

The FCC's bias in favor of broadband is further evidenced by the presumptions embodied in the spectrum inquiry proceeding. In the notice of inquiry on this subject the FCC, in effect, asks the broadcast industry to justify continued use of its spectrum, but includes no similar request for a justification from wireless providers — this in spite of the presence of considerable amounts of spam and pornography on current wireless networks, and in spite of underuse of some of its dedicated spectrum.

Video devise deployment

The second of the FCC's notices of inquiry invited comments on how to incentivize video manufacturers to promote greater migration from broadcast TV to IP-delivered TV. While the commission seeks comments on how to best shape future device development to encourage the use of a single, portable screen for all personal video and Internet usage, the contemplated convergence involves creating an Internet-based parity among broadcasters and other video providers that does not currently exist.

Harry C. Martin is a member of Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth, PLC.

Send questions and comments to:harry.martin@penton.com


  • For noncommercial TV stations in Texas, the biennial ownership report deadline is April 1. The biennial ownership reporting date for commercial TV, Class A TV and LPTV stations has been suspended pending improvements to the new FCC Form 323.
  • April 1 is the deadline for TV stations in Texas to electronically file their broadcast EEO midterm reports (Form 397) with the FCC.
  • April 1 is the deadline for TV stations licensed in the following states to place their annual EEO reports in their public files: Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas.