South Carolina Leases ETV Spectrum to Wireless Providers

COLUMBIA, S.C.: The state of South Carolina has leased its broadcast licenses to two wireless providers. The South Carolina Budget and Control board leased the airwaves controlled by the state for $143 million for a period of three decades to Clearwire Communications and DigitalBridge Communications, according to the Columbia Free Times. The board reportedly approved the lease at its Oct. 29 meeting. Minutes of the meeting are not yet posted online, but the agenda is, and it did include the item.

The two lessees, Clearwire of Kirland, Wash., and DigitalBridge of Ashburn, Va., specialize in wireless broadband and will presumably create such a network in South Carolina, though the Times did not say as much.

The Times said South Carolina is one of few states to own its educational television broadcast licenses. Universities typically control ETV systems. The S.C. ETV system will continue to run on a portion of the state’s licensed airwaves--5 percent, according to the Times.

The actual amount of bandwidth wasn’t identified in the article, but Sascha Meinrath of the New America Foundation think tank in Washington, D.C., suggested the state got shafted.

“Under a far more legitimate deal, the residents of South Carolina could be enjoying the benefits of low-cost or possibly even free broadband connectivity,” he told the Times. “Instead, they are being forced to watch as one of the state’s most valuable resources is being plundered for pennies on the dollar of its actual worth.”

The contract is said to have a buyback provision allowed the state to “recapture” up to 20 percent of the midband licenses, though the method for doing so was said to be undefined.

The Free Times article is available here.