McAdams On: Disclosure

The television spectrum incentive auction is six months away. This unprecedented auction may radically alter the availability and delivery of local news in markets across the country. The auction itself represents a transformation of the nation’s communications infrastructure into a fully paid access model. It is, by all measures, a government-facilitated privatization of what we once knew as the public airwaves.

Perhaps the public should be informed, rather than spun by D.C. fog factories portraying this auction as the key to the country’s technological future, in the name of all that is good for the public, which has yet to be informed about the impact on monthly household bills.

A “National Broadband Plan” implies a nationwide infrastructure providing service to all Americans at no or very low cost, creating opportunities across socioeconomic lines.

That is not the case, however.

The National Broadband Plan is a tax, and a rather poorly designed one in terms of the public interest. The Fed is selling one of its most valuable public assets— the spectrum—for a one-time cash payout from wireless providers, who in turn will charge the public to use it, most likely to watch TV, which they can now do for free.

This is a television tax nicely tucked into a legacy infrastructure project.

Will the public benefit? Will we all have faster Internet, or rather, will it be any faster than it would have been had wireless providers developed the spectrum they’re sitting on rather than dropping another $40 billion on frequencies they don’t need, just to keep them out of anyone else’s hands?

I kind of doubt it.

Does anyone believe for a moment that there will be more ISP competition, so broadband prices go down?

I don’t.

Does anyone believe this auction is not a crapshoot that could have a devastating effect on local media?

We’ll find out in a few months.