500 MHz

If I were a betting woman, I would avoid eye contact with broadcasting. The concept of a free, near-ubiquitous media service remains as relevant as ever for democracy, at least to the 43 million Americans who are not online, according to Internet Live Stats. But that’s just around 14 percent of the population—about the same portion not paying for TV, and we’ve already learned that’s not sufficient to justify the use of the airwaves for TV. People want broadband, everywhere, all the time. I guess. That’s what the White House and the wireless lobby would have us believe.

We don’t yet know what broadcasting will look like after the incentive auction, but it’s a safe bet the service will be decimated. While broadcaster participation is anonymous, Michael Dell and others have been acquiring TV licenses with the intent to auction them off, according to published reports, and word on the street is that one of the largest station groups in the country intends to throw in. Add to that the incompatibility of ATSC 3.0 with every existing TV set in America, and well, things don’t look too good for the over-the-air team.

Yet there remains one tiny little problem with the largest infrastructure transition of our time— the bill.

White House officials Megan Smith and Jason Furman would have us believe the $44 billion raised so far in the AWS auction is free money.

“The government doesn’t need to invest its own money, but instead can encourage private investment and make a profit for taxpayers along the way,” they wrote in The Wall Street Journal.

As anyone who pays for any sort of subscription service knows, it does not get cheaper, and system upgrades are paid for through incremental fee hikes.

There’s a big bill coming down the pike for “taxpayers.” That’s probably the safest bet there is.