Report proposes clearing spectrum of broadcast television service

A report submitted to the FCC Oct. 23 proposes television broadcasters give up all —or alternately, a portion — of their spectrum to make way for anticipated growing demand for wireless broadband connectivity.

The report, authored by Coleman Bazelon of The Brattle Group and submitted to the commission by the Consumer Electronics Association, estimates consumer benefits from repurposing the broadcast spectrum to support ubiquitous wireless broadband availability at more than $1 trillion.

The report, “The Need for Additional Spectrum for Wireless Broadband: The Economic Benefits and Costs of Reallocations,” lays out several scenarios for clearing some or all of the spectrum devoted to full-power DTV broadcasters and low-power television channels, including compensating broadcasters for their lost over-the-air audience or alternately paying to migrate the estimated 10 million over-the-air only households to a basic pay TV services. According to the author, the report is based on two underlying assumptions: First, the vast majority of TV programming from over-the-air broadcasters is viewed via pay TV service, and second, over-the-air transmission “is becoming less economically relevant to broadcasters.”

“The fact is we need more spectrum to continue to fulfill spiraling consumer demand,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, in an online press statement announcing the report’s submission. “We do have swaths of underutilized or inefficiently used spectrum.”

However, the head of the organization did not go so far as to endorse the study’s conclusions. Rather, the association presented the commission with the report as an approach to the kind of analysis the FCC should consider, he said.

Responding to the study, NAB executive VP Dennis Wharton said in an online press statement that the CEA-funded study fails to assign a value to the “immeasurable public benefit” of broadcast television, such as reliable, lifeline service during emergency circumstances.

Noting that in completing the DTV transition broadcasters returned a third of their spectrum to the government, Wharton said “as the FCC’s process to recommend a National Broadband Plan moves forward, NAB believes it is imperative that policy makers explore spectrum efficiency choices that don’t limit consumer access to the full potential of digital broadcasting.”

The NAB and Association for Maximum Service Television also filed comments Oct. 23 with the commission offering the perspective of broadcasters on spectrum allocation for future broadband needs.