Peter Passell and Robert Hahn, The FCC’s Trillion-Dollar Gambit, Politico, April 29, 2011
“As part of the deal for switching to a spectrum-efficient digital system, the broadcasters gave up about one-quarter of their spectrum — what used to be UHF channels 52-69. This was auctioned to the wireless telecoms for close to $20 billion.”
This is certainly a common canard used by the broadcast lobby and its champions. But the fact is that the DTV transition was a huge giveaway to, not a giveback from, the broadcast industry. As part of the DTV transition, broadcasters greatly increased their coverage areas at public expense and also won the right to transmit more than a dozen TV channels (hundreds if you include low definition mobile television channels) in the band that previously they were only licensed to transmit a single standard definition TV signal. They also got many other perks that are too technical to go into here.
The broadcasters were indeed forced to give up some of the unused guard band channels they had previously polluted with harmful interference. But the guard bands were never the broadcasters to give up. The DTV technology that allowed the broadcasters to vastly increase their service rights also allowed the FCC to reduce more than $20 billion worth of wasted guard band space in the general TV band allocation. This tradeoff of giving to TV broadcasters around a hundred billion dollars worth of new spectrum rights in return for reducing their pollution of the wasted guard band space was at the core of the win-win of the so-called DTV transition (originally called the HDTV transition for lobbying purposes).
To only focus on the reduced pollution and waste of the guard band channels, while a good lobbying point for the broadcast industry, is fundamentally misleading. So too is the fact that Politico didn’t disclose in this commentary that it’s owned by a company with extensive local TV broadcast license holdings and a management that has never been shy about using hardball political tactics to pursue its corporate spectrum welfare lobbying agenda. Admittedly, Robert Hahn and Peter Passell aren’t Politico staff writers and are highly respected policy analysts, so the conflict of interest seems less blatant. Still, it would be good journalism ethics for Politico to acknowledge that it very much has a dog in this fight.
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Comments of Campaign Legal Center, Benton Foundation, et al., In the matter of Innovation in the Broadcast Television Bands: Allocations, Channel Sharing and Improvements to VHF, ET Docket No. 10-235, April 25, 2011. Covered in Broadcasting in Cable.
Eggerton, John, NAB-Commissioned Study Offers Alternatives: For spectrum crunch suggests using smart antennas and femtocells to boost spectrum efficiency, Broadcasting & Cable, April 26, 2011.
Jerome, Sarah, FCC: We must not study spectrum issue ‘to death,’ The Hill, April 28, 2011.
Johnson, Ted, Air War Escalates: Are cell providers ‘squatters,’ Variety, April 27, 2011.
Wharton, Dennis, “Study Discredits Claim of Spectrum Crisis for Mobile Broadband,” NAB Press Release, April 26, 2011. Available at: http://www.nab.org/documents/newsRoom/pressRelease.asp?id=2516.