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Stuart Benjamin and the TV Broadcast Spectrum

Broadcasters this week pointed to the writings of a Duke University professor recently appointed as an adviser to the FCC as evidence that the commission is stacking the deck against the industry in its move to reclaim broadcast spectrum.

In a 2004 paper titled "Evaluating the FCC's National Television Ownership Cap: What's Bad for Broadcasting Is Good for the Country", Stuart M. Benjamin, who was recently appointed to the FCC as a "distinguished scholar in residence," essentially said that the FCC should use regulations to diminish the value of local broadcast so it would shrivel and its spectrum could be reallocated for other purposes.

The paper goes into more detail, including criticizing TV programming and its impact on the country. Benjamin argued against the "homogenization and pablum" from network broadcasting and outlines what he sees as the reason for a loss of interest in broadcast TV. It is well worth the read.

Benjamin's appointment has attracted attention not only in broadcast trade media, but in the Wall Street Journal and in Congress. It has raised awareness of plans to reallocate broadcast spectrum to wireless companies for broadband services. As a result, I expect more people will be watching for any FCC action that impacts the viability of off-air TV broadcasting and the spectrum it requires.

We saw one such response this week when Rep. Greg Walden, (R-Ore.) commented on Benjamin's call for costly regulations on off-air TV to speed its demise.

"I find it an abomination, I find it offensive," said Walden.

Walden said he would follow up with the FCC to find out why someone with that opinion is being employed, noting that pursuing such a policy would waste the billions recently invested in DTV.

The publicity around Benjamin's appointment has raised concerns about the FCC's course of action regarding broadcast spectrum. Whether it will be enough to counter the efforts to take away this spectrum remains to be seen, but as I see it, the publicity has to help.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.