Instead of looking at broadcasting as a antiquated service that should be stripped for spectrum, the FCC needs to start seeing it for what it is — an elegantly simple and inexpensive means of keeping every citizen in the national conversation. Instead of imposing burdensome new rules or tightening up restrictive old rules, the FCC should look for ways to lighten the regulatory load and strengthen the medium.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wants to expand the government’s Lifeline subsidy program for telephone service to cover broadband.
It sounds like a good idea, if you believe in a society of equal opportunities. Less than half of the households making $25,000 or have broadband access, Wheeler points out in his official blog.
And without broadband, you’re at a terrible disadvantage, he says. Eighty percent of Fortune 500 job openings are posted online, he says.
“We rely on broadband to manage and receive health care, and to help our children do their homework. A 2012 study estimated that broadband helps a typical U.S. consumer save $8,800 a year by providing access to bargains on goods and services.”
The initiative got me to thinking. What else could the FCC do to insure that poor families have access to news and information and quality entertainment — a service that would also help keep them safe when disasters strike?
Well, of course — how about a Broadcast Lifeline service? Here’s a program that wouldn’t require government subsidies or a bureaucracy to go with it. And it wouldn’t require a special tax to support it.
All that’s really needed is a change of attitude at the FCC.
Instead of seeing broadcasting as a antiquated service that should be stripped for spectrum, the FCC needs to start seeing it for what it is — an elegantly simple and inexpensive means of keeping every citizen of any means in the national conversation.
The FCC also has to recognize the unique attributes of broadcasting and the importance of redundancy in the nation’s mass media infrastructure.
Only broadcasting is available free to the public. And it’s the most rugged of the TV media. When the storms come, it’s most likely to keep on working. This goes not only for broadcast TV, but also for radio.
But no medium is immune to disaster. New York learned that on 9/11 when the attacks took down broadcasting’s main transmitters and antennas atop the North Tower.
That’s why the FCC’s stated policy should be to promote redundancy. The FCC’s trying to force all TV through broadband pipes makes no more sense than the Department of Transportation’s trying to force all freight onto the highways because someone decided that trains and barges were archaic.
With a change of attitude, broadcasting might start getting the respect it deserves at the FCC. Instead of imposing burdensome new rules on broadcasters or tightening up restrictive old rules, the FCC could look for ways to lighten the regulatory load and strengthen the broadcasting business.
Instead of coming up with schemes to diminish the medium (incentive auction), it should work on improving it by encouraging ATSC 3.0, the next-generation broadcast system.
In a TVNewsCheck article earlier this week, Jerry Fritz of ONE Media, one of the leading proponents of ATSC 3.0, laid out the case for why the FCC should make the new system a national standard — that is, permit its non-exclusive use in whatever is left of the TV band after the incentive auction.
It’s a great argument and one that every smart, forward-looking broadcaster should join in making when the time comes.
According to Fritz, the FCC is waiting for broadcasters to get the ball rolling on ATSC 3.0 by submitting a petition for rulemaking. In other words, the agency is taking a passive role, even though the standard could revitalize and enhance broadcasting in many different ways.
But if the FCC had the right attitude, it would not be sitting around waiting for broadcasters to walk in the door. It would be actively promoting ATSC 3.0 as it did 30 years ago when HDTV arrived on the scene. At the very least, it would be talking it up. There’s a good subject for the next Wheeler blog.
The Lifeline program provides a monthly subsidy of $9.25 that qualifying folks can use for telephone service or, if Wheeler has its way, broadband service.
With some 17 million homes taking advantage of it, it costs around $1.8 billion a year, not counting whatever it costs to administer it and to combat abuse and waste, which seems to be a chronic problem. The money comes from the Universal Service Fund, essentially a tax on everybody’s phone bills.
By contrast, the Broadcast Lifeline program will not cost a dime. The FCC can make sure that every American enjoys the benefits of free, universal, over-the-air broadcasting for years to come by simply deciding it is valuable — and acting accordingly.