The FCC’s Blair Levin pitches the idea again at a Washington forum and broadcasters say that while they want to be part of finding a solution for the country’s broadband needs, this isn’t the answer.
A proposal calling for reallocating broadcast TV spectrum for wireless broadband use got a chilly reception from industry representatives during a forum hosted by the Progress and Freedom Foundation in Washington today.
Making the pitch for the idea was Blair Levin, head of the FCC’s National Broadband Task Force.
The demand for spectrum is about to explode, says the FCC official who argued that TV spectrum could go to a “better, higher use.”
“The value of the spectrum itself is greater than the value created for broadcasters in the use of that spectrum,” according to Levin.
Levin first floated the idea of broadcasters turning in their spectrum for cash back in October. Under the proposal, some spectrum would be dedicated for broadcasting, enabling each station in a market to broadcast a single standard-definition signal.
“We wanted to see if there was an opportunity for broadcasters who did not need that excess spectrum to essentially help us avoid a crisis that is not [here] today but is certainly coming.
Added Levin: “It is a bit of a mystery to me that we can’t explore the idea that some broadcasters might wish to sell their spectrum in a way that benefits them and the country.”
But MSTV President David Donovan countered that broadcasters do want to work with the FCC to help explore ideas for improving broadband access in the United States. “We believe we are part of the solution,” Donovan said.
He went on to say that broadcasters have a role to play in the nation’s broadband future, providing multicast services, mobile DTV, emergency information, local news and high-definition TV.
“My members believe strongly that the business value proposition of over-the-air television far exceeds what would be a one-time snapshot value,” Donovan said.
He also warned that the costs associated with replacing an over-the-air service would “grow exponentially.”
And the MSTV president suggested that this debate is really about public policy. He questioned whether the FCC really wants to change that fundamental policy of broadcast licensing and regulation.
“Nobody has provided any facts that show that there is a looming spectrum crisis,” said broadcast lawyer John Hane of Pillsbury, Winthrop Shaw Pittman.
Hane pointed out that in any given market Verizon Wireless alone controls more spectrum than all the broadcasters combined.
“Verizon can choose the technology it wants. It can deploy and redeploy its spectrum as it sees fit. It is constantly in a state of digital transition and doesn’t need the government to manage that,” Hane said.
But broadcasters are hamstrung by government regulations.
“The FCC’s ownership rules have prevented anybody from using broadcast channels to offer any coast-to-coast service or introduce a game-changing service in any market,” Hane said.
Telecom analyst Paul Gallant, with Concept Capital, pointed out that the debate over reallocating broadcast spectrum won’t be limited to the FCC.
“Once the issue is in Congress’ hands it’s not clear how it develops. It’s not clear whether broadcasters will be better or worse off. Congress is under tremendous budgetary pressure,” Gallant noted.
Coleman Bazelon of the Brattle Group discussed the potential value of the TV spectrum. He submitted a study to the FCC that he conducted on behalf of the Consumer Electronics Association.
He repeated those findings, noting that the 294 Mhz of spectrum now allocated to broadcasting is worth $12 billion but would be worth $60 billion if it were auctioned off to wireless service providers.
He also estimated that the cost associated with making the spectrum available to broadband would run about $9 billion compared to the real benefits of wireless services to consumers of about $1 trillion.
Media Access project Andy Schwartzman says broadcasters have been given an unbelievable benefit in terms of spectrum. “They sat on twice as much spectrum for 10 years. They squandered it, they haven’t come up with a business model. Mobile TV threatens to become commercially viable some day,” he said.
“Most of all, they have not provided the benefit to the public in terms of building a service that comes with the bargain to get free broadcast licenses,” he argued. “They want all the benefits and none of the responsibilities,” Schwartzman claimed.
But he also says he doesn’t like the idea of spectrum auctions. Instead, the public interest advocate said he is a strong advocate of the white spaces technology and its unlicensed uses.
He worried that the debate over reallocating broadcaster spectrum might interfere with the FCC’s white spaces initiative.