Katy Bachman, Air War It’s TV vs. phones in Washington’s explosive broadband battle, AdWeek, May 25, 2011.
“The broadcasters are the ones carrying the scars, having already been forced two years ago to surrender 25 percent of the airwaves they held, when the federal government’s long-planned, long-delayed conversion from analog to digital TV finally went through.”
This author can write but her grasp of telecom history is, to put it mildly, rather slight. Consider a writer who relies on the current talking points of the players involved in the Israeli/Palestinian debate. It’s a journalistic formula for possibly getting the current power dynamics right but not one for understanding the underlying issues, including the merits of the arguments made by the conflicting parties. Overall, this piece is written like a sophisticated press release written by the NAB’s Dennis Wharton. Kudos to the NAB for getting its talking points to drive the storyline here. No one doubts the broadcasters’ comparative sophistication in dealing with advertisers!
Here I’d like to dwell on just one claimed historical fact. The author says: “The broadcasters are the ones carrying the scars, having already been forced two years ago to surrender 25 percent of the airwaves they held, when the federal government’s long-planned, long-delayed conversion from analog to digital TV finally went through.”
No, the DTV transition was a huge windfall for the TV broadcasting industry, increasing the value of their spectrum by at least ten times what it would otherwise be valued at today. It’s true that some of the guard band spectrum allocated to TV broadcasting service was given up and that restricted the broadcasters from reaping some of the additional windfall they might have acquired from being granted free use of additional unused guard band space. But the loss of an additional potential windfall is a very funny way to set a baseline for accounting. It’s the type of accounting politicians frequently engage in when they want to score political points in budget battles. But I’d suggest that the appropriate baseline is the spectrum rights individual broadcasters had before and after the DTV transition. And therefore the magnitude of the windfall, at least tens of billions of dollars–and to some of the wealthiest individuals and corporations in America–would be the more appropriate historical reference.
On the positive side, the author’s presentation of the politically salient positions does pretty much represent the conventional wisdom today among the political elite in Washington, DC. If all that counts is perception, not reality, in Washington, DC, then the author can be said to have provided a balanced account. However, that is a very low (albeit hardly unusual) journalistic standard.