The clock is ticking on spectrum reclamation

While many have chastised broadcasters for squatting on spectrum that could be used for the president’s proposed National Broadband Plan (e.g., Internet for all), it’s been hard to quantify in terms that the average person can clearly understand. Until now (if you believe everything you read).

Last week the Consumer Electronics Association’s (CEA) Innovation Movement launched what it calls a “Spectrum Crunch Clock” to help Americans visualize the economic costs of delay in spectrum reform. The Innovation Movement is comprised of over 100,000 “engaged citizens who believe innovation is critical to American global leadership and economic growth.” The group said each minute the spectrum is not reallocated to “higher value services,” the American public is “realizing a lost opportunity cost of $14,444, or $7.6 billion each year.”

A constantly increasing counter, similar to the national debt counter mounted on the side of a building in NYC, was at $34,407,484,000 at the time of this writing.

The CEA said it launched the call to action to address the NAB’s “intense lobbying” that has hindered the reclamation of some 120MHz of spectrum now used by broadcasters. It is urging consumers to “take action and write their members of Congress in support of the need for more spectrum for new and innovative wireless broadband services.”

The NAB called the Spectrum Crunch Clock a “childish gimmick and hysteria from our CEA friends.”

The CEA and others have argued that there is a spectrum shortage due to the increased use of portable digital devices like laptops, e-readers, tablets and smart phones to view video and other bandwidth-intensive applications.

“As anyone frustrated by dropped calls or slow data downloads knows, wireless spectrum is limited and is not being used efficiently enough to provide the connections consumers demand,” the CEA said in a statement announcing the clock. “More spectrum cannot be created; so it is essential to responsibly utilize this resource.”

The NAB counters that broadcasters gave back 108MHz of spectrum in 2009, some of which has yet to be redeployed. The government wants 120MHz more to provide up to 10Mb/s service nationwide initially and as much as 100Mb/s — 20 times faster than what is generally available today — by 2020.

“NAB has never opposed the notion of broadcasters voluntarily giving back additional spectrum, so long as non-volunteers are held harmless,” it said in a statement soon after the clock was announced. “We would suggest that CEA ask Alabamans who are crediting local television with saving their lives during tornado coverage last week whether TV spectrum is ‘underutilized.’”

The CEA estimates the “voluntary” auctions would generate approximately $34 billion for the U.S. Treasury (if all stations opt in) and allow the spectrum to be used for wireless broadband and other services.