Genachowski favors paying TV broadcasters who relinquish their spectrum

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski called on TV broadcasters Feb. 24 to give up their spectrum voluntarily to help the nation meet perceived future demand for wireless broadband Internet service.

Speaking before the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C., Genachowski proposed reimbursing broadcasters from the proceeds of an auction of their spectrum. Genachowski made the proposal as the commission puts the finishing touches on its National Broadband Plan, which must be submitted to Congress March 17. In laying out the proposal, Genachowski emphasized that surrendering broadcast spectrum would be voluntary.

Saying that broadcast spectrum is not “being used efficiently” and that much of it “is not being used at all,” the agency chairman also proposed authorizing spectrum-sharing and other measures to help it reach its goal of freeing up 500MHz of spectrum for future wireless Internet.

“While overwhelmingly — roughly 90 percent — of Americans receive their broadcast TV programming in most major markets through cable wires or satellite signals, there are still millions of Americans who receive TV through over-the-air antenna TV,” he said in prepared remarks. “Broadcasters would be able to continue to serve their communities with free over-the-air local news, information and entertainment, and they would be able to experiment [with] mobile TV.”

“The Mobile Future Auction would allow broadcasters to elect to participate in a mechanism that could save costs for broadcasters while also being a major part of the solution to one of our country’s most significant challenges,” he said.

Responding to the proposal in a press statement, NAB Executive VP Dennis Wharton said “broadcasters are ready to make the case that we are far and away the most efficient users of spectrum in today’s communications marketplace.”

A press statement issued by Association for Maximum Service Television President David Donovan said the group is “struck by the apparent focus” on reducing spectrum used by local TV stations to meet the government’s goals. “We have exclusive use of only 5.1 percent of the so-called beachfront spectrum that broadband services desire,” he said.

“In these tough economic times, consumers should not be forced to sacrifice access to their favorite free, local TV programs, news, emergency information and local mobile video services in order to divert spectrum to the wireless telephone companies that will turn around and provide pay-based services,” Donovan said in the statement.

In October 2009, a report submitted to the commission as part of its national broadband plan proceeding brought up the idea of clearing TV broadcasters from some or all of their spectrum. Authored by Coleman Bazelon of The Brattle Group and paid for by the Consumer Electronics Association, the report appears as if it may have influenced policymakers looking for spectrum to meet anticipated wireless broadband plans.

According to Genachowski, “a broad range of analysts, companies and trade associations participating in our broadband proceeding agree that a clear candidate for allocation is spectrum in the broadcast TV bands.”

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.