FCC Says Smart Phone Growth Rising While OTA TV Viewing Declines

The FCC this week reported that over the air TV viewership has dropped by 56 percent while smart phone subscriptions increased 690 percent since 1998. The statistics were publicized in its report Critical Gaps In Path to Future Universal Broadband [PDF], under the heading "Spectrum Gap: Frustrates mobile broadband growth."

The "apples and oranges" comparison should be obvious.

For a more appropriate comparison, off-air TV viewership should be calculated from when it was in the same stage of development, maybe 1939, as smart phones were in 1998.

Another option would be to look at off-air DTV reception in 1999, as compared with off-air DTV reception in 2009. Either would show a significant increase in viewership, not a decline.

How would dial-up Internet access fare in a similar comparison during a similar time frame? It wouldn't make sense to extrapolate that result to show there is less interest in Internet access!

The only reason I can see the FCC using such a misleading comparison in their news release and in the slide presentation Broadband Gaps – November 18, 2009 – FCC Open Meeting [PDF] would be to make the case for clearing broadcast TV spectrum and allowing wireless carriers to bid for all or part of it for wireless broadband.

As I point out in another article this week, in markets like Los Angeles there is little TV spectrum to clear without shutting down at least some TV broadcasters. Many of the channels that can't be used for full power broadcasting are occupied by low power TV stations. The FCC has announced another filing window for new LPTV channels PDF in January. That would appear contradictory to the assumption in Wednesday's releases that broadcasting is not the best use of this spectrum.

Doug Lung

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. As vice president of Broadcast Technology for NBCUniversal Local, H. Douglas Lung leads NBC and Telemundo-owned stations’ RF and transmission affairs, including microwave, radars, satellite uplinks, and FCC technical filings. Beginning his career in 1976 at KSCI in Los Angeles, Lung has nearly 50 years of experience in broadcast television engineering. Beginning in 1985, he led the engineering department for what was to become the Telemundo network and station group, assisting in the design, construction and installation of the company’s broadcast and cable facilities. Other projects include work on the launch of Hawaii’s first UHF TV station, the rollout and testing of the ATSC mobile-handheld standard, and software development related to the incentive auction TV spectrum repack. A longtime columnist for TV Technology, Doug is also a regular contributor to IEEE Broadcast Technology. He is the recipient of the 2023 NAB Television Engineering Award. He also received a Tech Leadership Award from TV Tech publisher Future plc in 2021 and is a member of the IEEE Broadcast Technology Society and the Society of Broadcast Engineers.