Spectrum Comments Pour into FCC

WASHINGTON: A proposal to create a national wireless broadband network is generating tens of thousands of comments at the Federal Communications Commission. Commenters range from lobbies, think tanks, schools, phone companies, citizens, and the likes of the Waukesha County Department of Emergency Preparedness.

Each has an agenda. Waukesha County emergency responders want communications licensed in the 700 MHz block of spectrum. A previous effort by the FCC to auction a slice of 700 MHz as a public-private partnership for emergency communications failed to attract sufficient bids.

Lawrence Touitou of Burlingame, Calif., urged the FCC to enforce network neutrality.

The National Association of Broadcasters in Washington, D.C. urged the commission to keeps its mitts off of television spectrum. The NAB was joined in its comments by the Association for Maximum Service TV:

“MSTV and NAB herein reject the notion put forth by a select few commenters affiliated with the commercial wireless industry--namely, that to achieve a world-class broadband ecosystem, one must curtail or even eliminate consumers’ access to a free and robust over-the-air digital television service.”

The wireless industry is hotly pursuing the notion that using airwaves for broadband is a far better use of spectrum than TV. The Wireless Association (CTIA), along with the Consumer Electronics Association, asked the FCC this week to “investigate potential reallocation of broadcast spectrum.”

“To our knowledge,” they wrote, “the commission has never conducted a detailed evaluation of advanced television services, nor has it made an assessment of alternative uses and the ability of the commission to reduce the amount of spectrum assigned to broadcast television licensees.

“This spectrum is uniquely suited for mobile broadband applications, devices and services--it has highly favorable propagation characteristics and is directly adjacent to the 700 and 800 MHz spectrum utilized by the commercial wireless industry. We therefore urge the commission to take immediate action to initiate the Congressionally mandated evaluation of broadcast television spectrum usage.”

The Congressional mandate refers to the Communications Act, which directs the FCC to conduct an evaluation within 10 years of issuing licenses for advanced TV services, otherwise known as digital TV.

Several broadcast groups weighed in, echoing the NAB and MSTV comments and further saying such a reallocation would be anticompetitive.

“Consumers value video programming more highly than any other content, and a reallocation of broadcast spectrum could conveniently eliminate the wireless industry’s most serious competitive threat--mobile DTV.,” 16 TV station groups said in a joint reply comment. “Indeed, a spectrum reallocation from television to wireless broadband would amount to the commission picking industry winners and losers.”

A filing from PBS Counsel Matthew DelNero reminded the commission how much money had just been spent on realizing digital television--several billions, including federal, state, local and donated dollars.

The pitch of the battle is beginning to draw in lawmakers. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) penned a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, prodding the regulator to protect broadcasting. The letter, initially obtained and reported by John Eggerton of Broadcasting & Cable, conveyed Dingell’s concern about reallocating spectrum.

“Particularly as commercial and non-commercial broadcasters surrendered nearly one-third of their spectrum to the federal government in order to facilitate the recent transition from analog to digital signal transmission, I believe that a further loss of spectrum by broadcasters may have an adverse effect upon consumers by limiting their choice in available broadcast television,” Dingell wrote. “This in mind, it is my belief that the commission can accomplish its statutorily mandated duty to complete a national broadband plan and promote the expansion of broadband infrastructure in the near-term, while at the same time preserve to the greatest extent possible for consumers the availability of free, over-the-air local broadcasting.”

The FCC must present a nationwide broadband plan to Congress by February.

(Image by Eric Harmatz)