Brendan Sasso, “Google, Microsoft push for FCC flexibility in spectrum auctions,” The Hill, February 13, 2012


Brendan Sasso, Google, Microsoft push for FCC flexibility in spectrum auctions, The Hill, February 13, 2012


” Walden, who is chairman of the Energy and Commerce’s telecom subcommittee, said his spectrum bill ‘simply says that the FCC cannot spend taxpayer funds to clear additional spectrum and then give away that billions of dollars worth of spectrum. Taxpayers deserve a return on their investment.'”


Talk about Orwellian doublespeak: this is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. Walden is structuring the auction so that broadcasters will receive a huge spectrum windfall at taxpayer expense. Then he invents a new definition of windfall so he can accuse advocates of unlicensed spectrum of doing what he is doing. Chutzpah! But given how many times his soundbite has been reprinted in the press without challenge, he appears to have gotten away with it.

John Eggerton, “Walden: Unlicensed Is Important, But FCC Should Not Give Away Billions,” Broadcasting & Cable, February 9, 2012


John Eggerton, Walden: Unlicensed Is Important, But FCC Should Not Give Away Billions, Broadcasting & Cable, February 9, 2012


“Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), said he was for unlicensed spectrum too, but not for the FCC giving away spectrum.”


Talk about Orwellian doublespeak: this is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. Walden is structuring the auction so that broadcasters will receive a huge spectrum windfall. Then he invents a new definition of windfall so he can accuse his opponents of doing what he is doing. Chutzpah! But I don’t doubt that it will work.

Brandan Sasso, “Dozens of lawmakers call for more unlicensed spectrum,” The Hill, February 9, 2012


Brandan Sasso, Dozens of lawmakers call for more unlicensed spectrum, The Hill, February 9, 2012


“The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), argues the government should not pay to reclaim airwaves that it will then give away for free in the form of unlicensed spectrum.”


Talk about Orwellian doublespeak: this is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. Walden is structuring the auction so that broadcasters will receive a huge spectrum windfall. Then he invents a new definition of windfall so he can accuse advocates of unlicensed spectrum of doing what he is doing. Chutzpah! But I don’t doubt that it will work.

Craig Aaron, “When Whinosaurs Attack!,” Huffington Post, February 7, 2012


Craig Aaron, When Whinosaurs Attack!Huffington Post, February 7, 2012


“[Y]hese whiny media dinosaurs — or whinosaurs for short — have no shame.”


Yes, but it takes two to tango. Without Congressional support, the broadcasters’ whining would have long ago fallen on deaf ears at the FCC. This is where Free Press falls short. It’s willing to complain about the broadcasters and occasionally the FCC, but it’s not willing to get at the root of the problem, which is Congress, including some of its closest Congressional allies such as Reps John Dingell and Edward Markey, and Senators Rockefeller and Kerry. Of course, the Republicans are just as much in the pocket of the broadcasters as the Democrats on this issue. But Free Press cannot very well go after the Republicans when there is no light between them and the Democrats on this issue. When Free Press is willing to go after both Democrats and Republicans on this and related bipartisan issues in conflict with the public interest, I’ll stand up and applaud. Until then, it’s not much more than bloviasauring.

Gordon Crovitz, “Spectrum Dinosaurs at the FCC,” February 6, 2012


Gordon Crovitz, Spectrum Dinosaurs at the FCC, February 6, 2012

Comment #1

Title: Spectrum Pigs at the WSJ

The disconnect between the Wall Street Journal’s spectrum advocacy on behalf of its parent company, the News Corp., and its public policy pretensions in this commentary, are simply astounding. Nowhere is it acknowledged that the News Corp. has huge broadcast TV spectrum holdings that would increase in value by billions of dollars if the proposed Congressional/FCC “auction” takes place. Nowhere is it acknowledged that the “auction” really isn’t an auction in the way it is presented here because the proceeds will overwhelmingly go into the pockets of the WSJ/News Corp., not the public; anyone who argues otherwise needs to carefully read the legislation and parse the many Congressional hearings and markups on this subject.

Rupert Murdoch (owner of the WSJ and News Corp.) has consistently been one of the most aggressive (and successful) lobbyists for spectrum giveaways to News Corp (e.g., see my book, Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick: How Local TV Broadcasters Exert Political Power).. And his corporate lobbying position is mimicked here. At the very least, the WSJ, as a matter of journalistic ethics, should acknowledge in this and similar op-eds its parent company’s huge business interest and lobbying activity in the proposed auction of its spectrum licenses. Given the gross magnitude of its conflict of interest, disclosure is probably too embarrassing an option. So its practical options are probably either to merely ignore the issue or write about it without disclosure. To its discredit, it has clearly chosen the latter approach. Shame on it and shame on any other news outlet with broadcast holdings that acts in a similar way.

 Comment #2

Reply to a reader’s comment seeking clarification:

The way broadcast incumbents acquire additional public spectrum rights without compensation to the rights holders (the public) is complicated, and I explain it in my book and also, to a lesser extent, at Here I can simplify it quite a bit; just remember it is a simplification.

Broadcasters are currently licensed to use a chunk of spectrum for broadcast purposes. The market for spectrum is such that a license to use spectrum for mobile broadband purposes is worth an order of magnitude more than a license to use spectrum for broadcast purposes. This change in license terms is akin to a change in a property’s real estate zoning from low density residential to high density commercial in a commercial area. The incentive auction is structured so that the broadcasters will receive all or substantially all of this windfall. This conflicts with the Communications Act, which prohibits spectrum windfalls, and it also embarrasses Congress, which is embarrassed to give huge amounts of corporate welfare (the spectrum windfall) to some of the wealthiest individuals and most profitable corporations in America. The result is a lot of political posturing and Orwellian type misinformation to the public. This so-called “auction” isn’t about the government staying out of the marketplace; it’s about the government giving a vast amount of public assets to private entities without public compensation (i.e., what should be called “corporate welfare”).

Waldman, Steven, “Local TV Stations Rally to Oppose Media Transparency,” Columbia Journalism Review, January 26, 2012


Waldman, Steven, Local TV Stations Rally to Oppose Media Transparency, Columbia Journalism Review, January 26, 2012


It has often been observed that those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. For more than forty years the public interest community has been trying to get the broadcast industry to have greater transparency regarding its media archives. For some of the early history, see my May 2000 article published in the Harvard International Journal of Press-Politics: “Local TV News Archives as a Public Good.” Unfortunately, it is simply not in the self-interest of broadcasters to face this type of accountability. And given that the public interest community is politically weak, politically naive, generally blissfully ignorant of history, and often more interested in do-good headlines than actual results, the broadcasters win time and again regardless of how poor are their public policy excuses. It’s a sad story. Hopefully, it won’t be repeated yet again. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Juliana Greenwald, “Walden Bullish on Spectrum Legislation’s Prospects,” National Journal, January 25, 2012


Juliana Greenwald, Walden Bullish on Spectrum Legislation’s Prospects, National Journal, January 25, 2012


“Walden said the language included in his bill would ensure the FCC can’t pick winners and losers.”


This is an absurd statement, given that Walden wants to rig the auction process, including FCC incentives, so that the public transfers tens of billions of dollars to one of the most politically powerful lobbies–the local TV broadcasters–without public compensation. If that’s not picking winners (well-connected industry interests) and losers (the public), I don’t know what is.

Gautham Nagesh, “Group backs calls for unlicensed spectrum,” The Hill, January 10, 2012.


Gautham Nagesh, Group backs calls for unlicensed spectrum, The Hill, January 10, 2012.


“House Republicans argue the government should not pay for airwaves just to give them away again for free..”


This is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. When did the broadcasters pay the government for their spectrum? The Republicans (and Democrats) are proposing to give the broadcasters tens of billions of dollars worth of spectrum rights plus revenue for spectrum that is owned by the public and that broadcasters never paid a nickel to the public for, except for what turned out to be bogus “public interest obligations.” It is unfortunate that the politics of the Wireless Innovation Alliance prevent it from addressing this issue because it would actually strengthen its case.

Brendan Sasso, “Senators blast House spectrum bill,” The Hill, January 9, 2012


Brendan Sasso, Senators blast House spectrum bill, The Hill, January 9, 2012


“House Republicans argue the government should not pay to reclaim airwaves that it will then give away for free.”


This is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. When did the broadcasters pay the government for their spectrum? The Republicans (and Democrats) are proposing to give the broadcasters tens of billions of dollars worth of spectrum rights plus revenue for spectrum that is owned by the public and that broadcasters never paid a nickle to the public for, except for what turned out to be bogus “public interest obligations.”

Tony Wolverton, “Wolverton: House bill wrong way to divvy up airwaves, San Jose Mercury News Backers of the bill say they are just trying to ensure that the government gets as much money as possible for these prized airwaves,” Mercury News, December 19, 2011.


Tony Wolverton, Wolverton: House bill wrong way to divvy up airwaves, San Jose Mercury News Backers of the bill say they are just trying to ensure that the government gets as much money as possible for these prized airwaves, Mercury News, December 19, 2011.


Only someone unfamiliar with Congressional spectrum politics could accept such a statement at face value.  A close student of the spectrum provisions and the politics surrounding them would discover that the auction receipts to the Federal treasury, specifically those concerning the broadcast band, are largely a smoke and mirrors game designed to fool the American public that a huge corporate giveaway is actually its opposite.  The elimination of unlicensed spectrum is not in the pursuit of gaining more money for the Federal treasury but ensuring that every possible last drop of the spectrum windfall from “incentive auctions”  is given to the broadcast industry.

John Eggerton, “NAB’s Gordon Smith: We’re Fine With House Version of Spectrum Bill,” Broadcasting & Cable, December 15, 2011


John Eggerton, NAB’s Gordon Smith: We’re Fine With House Version of Spectrum Bill, Broadcasting & Cable, December 15, 2011


Trade publications like B&C are mouthpieces for their industries, so it’s appropriate for them to print articles that are little more than press releases for their lead trade association.  However, printing gross distortions of fact, such as Smith’s claim that “the cost to broadcasters of the 2009 digital switch, which also included repacking channels, was $15 billion” should be a line inappropriate for even trade publications to cross.

Kerry, John, “Sen. John Kerry: Your Airwaves, Your Voice,” Huffington Post, December 13, 2011


Kerry, John, Sen. John Kerry: Your Airwaves, Your Voice, Huffington Post, December 13, 2011


The spectrum crunch is real, but that is no excuse to give tens of billions of dollars worth of public airwaves to the TV broadcasters,  The authors describe this giveaway as freeing up spectrum “in a way that is fair to broadcasters.”   But it certainly isn’t fair to those who own that spectrum: us.  Both political parties support this giveaway, so  this isn’t a partisan issue.

The issue that is partisan has to do with the support of unlicensed use of this spectrum.  I believe this is a very worthy goal.  But both parties have eviscerated the original plans to allow unlicensed use of the white spaces in this band of spectrum.  So the debate is far more about window dressing than both the champions and opponents of unlicensed use have acknowledged.  However, I applaud Kerry and Eshoo, who, unlike me, don’t have to worry about committing political suicide in our world of special interest driven politics, for advocating for at least a tiny sliver of unlicensed use.

Edder, Steve, “SEC Puts Falcone, Harbinger in Its Sights,” Wall Street Journal, December 10, 2011


Edder, Steve, SEC Puts Falcone, Harbinger in Its Sights, Wall Street Journal, December 10, 2011


I think the politicians and their administrative lackeys who have given LightSquared and its predecessors more than ten billions dollars worth of public assets (spectrum rights) are the real villains here.  Harbinger is just one bit player in this larger story of gross (but perfectly legal) political corruption.  The shameless giveaway artists from both political parties in the U.S. House and Senate–including Reps. Dingell (D) and Walden (R) in the House, and Sens. Rockefeller (D) and Hutchison (R) in the Senate–they are the big game the media should be going after.

Brendan Sasso, “GOP includes spectrum auctions, net-neutrality restriction in payroll tax bill,” The Hill, December 9, 2011.


Brendan Sasso, GOP includes spectrum auctions, net-neutrality restriction in payroll tax bill, The Hill, December 9, 2011.


Where is the CBO score on the so-called incentive spectrum auction?  Publishing a Congressional estimate of auction revenues is little different than publishing a telemarketer’s claims about the value of real estate in Florida sight unseen. Neither source of information, based on a long track record of fraudulent claims, has credibility.

Brendan Sasso, “Spectrum auctions might be included in GOP’s payroll-tax bill,” The Hill, December 7, 2011


Brendan Sasso, Spectrum auctions might be included in GOP’s payroll-tax bill, The Hill, December 7, 2011


Where is the CBO score of the Walden bill?  I endlessly hear the bill’s proponents claim that it will bring in as much as $15 billion to the treasury.  For example, that number was repeated numerous times by different lawmakers at the recent markup hearing chaired by Walden.  But the CBO score wasn’t publicly available then and last time I checked a few days ago it still wasn’t available.  Given all the funny games that get played with such CBO numbers, it’s vital that they be publicly disclosed.

Cecilia Kang, “FCC nominees gain broad Senate support,” The Washington Post, November 30, 2011


Cecilia Kang, FCC nominees gain broad Senate support, The Washington Post, November 30, 2011


No wonder they are popular with the Senate Commerce Committee members: both are shameless advocates for corporate welfare and the type of doublespeak on which Commerce Committee members and the telecom lobby thrives.

Josh Smith, “House Committee Sets Spectrum Legislation Markup,” National Journal, November 23, 2011


Josh Smith, House Committee Sets Spectrum Legislation MarkupNational Journal, November 23, 2011


Walden’s “pro-jobs strategy” is a euphemism for a “pro-corporate welfare strategy.”  Has Walden ever opposed corporate welfare for the broadcasting industry, his family’s former business?  I don’t recall so.

Barbara Cochran, “Should Some of Broadcasters’ Spectrum Be Auctioned Off to Wireless Carriers?” Wall Street Journal, November 14, 2011


Barbara Cochran, Should Some of Broadcasters’ Spectrum Be Auctioned Off to Wireless Carriers? Wall Street Journal, November 14, 2011


Two Barbara Cochran Quotes:

1) “First, do no harm.”

2) “An informed public is essential to the effective functioning of democracy.”


Since the late 1980s when the issue of the local TV broadcasters’ misuse of spectrum first came to the fore, the Radio Television News Directors Association (RTNDA; currently called the Radio Television Digital News Association) has endorsed the broadcast industry’s warehousing of underutilized spectrum and the government’s vast giveaway of additional spectrum rights to it beginning in 1996.  This has cost the American public hundreds of billions of dollars in foregone revenue, higher prices for mobile broadband services, and the loss of vital new industries.  This is what Barbara Cochran, current RTNDA board member and former RTNDA president (1997-2009), calls doing “no harm.”  Coming from the longtime leader of an organization that has consistently touted its commitment to journalistic ethics, this Goebbels like affinity for the big lie is enough to make one cry.

The symbolism of this for regulators in the know is awful.  Cochran is intimately identified with the leadership of the preeminent organization of TV news editors, who collectively have immense control over the reputation of members of Congress.  If the public cannot get the truth out of the news media, and the news media demonstrates its willingness to abuse its information power at the expense of the public, then our democracy—at least in regard to spectrum policy—is in sad shape.  Cochran’s statement, “an informed public is essential to the effective functioning of democracy,” says it all, but with exactly the opposite meaning she purports.  She has thus delivered a gut punch to the democratic values she claims to espouse.   Let the broadcast industry’s PR flaks lobby on behalf of the broadcast industry.  When someone so closely identified with media ethics and news power brokers takes on this role, a rubicon signaling intimidation of policymakers and misuse of media power has been crossed.

Kevin Fitchard, “LightSquared is jilting taxpayers out of billions, GPS industry claims,” Connected Planet, October 27, 2011


Kevin Fitchard, LightSquared is jilting taxpayers out of billions, GPS industry claims, Connected Planet, October 27, 2011


Amen. The Wall Street Journal ran a front page story about the first phase of the LightSquared giveaway around 2003. I’ve seen no comparable coverage of the early 2011 second phase, perhaps because the Wall Street was acquired by the News Corp with its massive spectrum holdings (joining other newspapers with major spectrum holdings such as the Washington Post, U.S.A. Today, and Los Angeles Times).

None of the regular tech players that lobby Congress and the FCC on spectrum issues, most notably the broadcasters and the mobile phone companies, can raise such issues because they’ve all been playing the same game as LightSquared and when you live in glass houses you don’t throw stones. High-tech companies, such as Sony (broadcast equipment), Google (handsets), Microsoft (handsets), and Apple (handsets) are in a similar position because they are vendors to the broadcast and mobile phone spectrum lobbyists and must be careful not to alienate their customers. The beauty of the GPS folks is that they don’t appear to have such cross-cutting incentives.

Is this the beginning of the dam breaking on the taboo Washington, DC subject of spectrum giveaway? Probably not, certainly if the recent talk of spectrum incentive auctions is any guide.


Paul Kirby, “Snider Blasts TV Plan,” TR Daily, October 25, 2011

TR Daily covers The Broadcast Industry’s Free TV Scam Redux, published in the Huffington Post.  Here is the text:


J.H. Snider, president of and a critic of TV broadcasters’ use of spectrum, blasted a proposal advanced by the Coalition for Free TV and Broadband, which represents low-power TV and translator stations, that would be an alternative to holding incentive auctions of broadcast spectrum (TRDaily, Oct. 20).  In a column on “The Huffington Post,” Mr. Snider called a cost-benefit analysis released by the coalition last week “breathtakingly amateurish, making numerous dubious assumptions.”  The analysis, prepared for the coalition by Business Analytix, Inc., estimates that the “broadcast overlay” plan that would allow broadcasters to offer broadband services would produce up to $62 billion for the U.S. Treasury between 2014 and 2026 and $215 billion when considering an unspecified number of years past that.  In his column, Mr. Snider said that “if the past is any guide, Congress will not likely care about such a slipshod analysis.”  But later he said, “The American public has long proved a sucker for such games. It’s been a long ride, and I don’t expect it to be over until the billionaires and their media conglomerates, with their sycophantic allies in Congress, have succeeded in upgrading their licenses from broadcast to broadband for chump change to the American public who own the airwaves.

Holman W. Jenkins, “Wi-Fi and the Mobile Meltdown:, ” Wall Street Journal, October 18, 2011

Cited Article

Holman W. Jenkins, Wi-Fi and the Mobile Meltdown, Wall Street Journal, October 18, 2011

My Comments

Sounds like Jenkins is a paid lobbyist for the broadcast industry.  Oh, I forgot, his employer owns the largest TV broadcast network in the U.S.  Whatever happened to journalistic ethics, where staff journalists and reputable newspapers are supposed to disclose their conflicts of interest?

Jenkins, despite his breathless prose about the new, always seems to be about a decade behind in his spectrum theories.  He is the Ptolemy of spectrum commentators.  Always trying to fit the facts to his archaic theories than to adjust his theories to the facts.

John Eggerton, NAB: Spectrum Crisis “Manufactured,” Broadcasting & Cable, October 6, 2011

Cited Article

John Eggerton, NAB: Spectrum Crisis “Manufactured,” Broadcasting & Cable, October 6, 2011

My Comments

In regard to the five points NAB raises in its letter:

1. Is there a spectrum crisis?

Answer: Yes.

2. Why has the FCC not conducted a complete spectrum inventory?

Answer: Because groups like the NAB, which has access to some 4 GHz of auxiliary spectrum, including the prime Electronic Newsgathering Band, would prefer that the public not understand how they underutilize these bands.

3. What is the value of free TV to society?

Answer: I’ve answered this question at length in my book, Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick: How Local TV Broadcasters Exert Political Power, and my website  The answer, in short, is not what the NAB makes it out to me.  The story of Miltz Maltz, the NAB’s billionaire champion of Free TV, vividly illustrates my case.

4. Where can the millions of people who rely on free TV for niche foreign language and religious programming turn?

Answer: Just about anywhere online other than broadcast TV.

5. What would shuttering of TV stations do to the state of journalism?

Answer: Make broadband affordable and thus lead to a flowering of diverse information sources.

Paul Kirby, “TV Spectrum Compensation Blasted,” TR Daily, October 5, 2011

TR Daily covers the column in the Huffington Post.  Here is the text:


J.H. Snider, president of, said in a column in “The Huffington Post” today that President Obama should amend his jobs legislation proposal so TV broadcasters don’t get the bulk of incentive auctions revenue for returning their channels.  “Specifically, the president should explicitly state how much of the auction proceeds will go to the public,” Mr. Snider wrote.  “He should encourage the Congressional deficit reduction super committee to close the many spectrum loopholes in government laws designed to prevent giveaways of public assets.  And given the Federal government’s demonstrated facility in conducting spectrum giveaways below the public radar, the president should propose accounting and other procedural reforms to reduce the incentives for such institutional corruption among his staff.”  Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said today the Senate will consider the American Jobs Act this month but that he won’t let Republicans force an up-or-down vote on the measure, as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) attempted to do by moving to tack it onto another measure.  Also today, the Congressional Budget Office released its cost estimate for the American Jobs Act (S 1549), including an estimate of the net revenues that would be realized by Treasury as a result of spectrum auctions.  From 2012 to 2021, spectrum auctions would return $15.794 billion to the Treasury.

Huffington Post article criticizing the spectrum giveaway in the President’s jobs plan

Today the Huffington Post published my article criticizing the tacit spectrum giveaway contained in President Obama’s American Jobs Act of 2011.  The article, Soaking the Rich in Obama’s Jobs Plan?  Its multi-billion dollar spectrum giveaway undercuts the president’s populist message, is intended to provide background information for the related petition I sent to the White House’s We The People petition website (for details, see the preceding post below).

Petition on spectrum giveaways on the White House’s new We The People website

Dear Readers:

I wanted to let you know about a new petition on spectrum policy that I created on We the People, a new feature on  Please consider adding your name to mine and passing along this petition to anyone else you think might support the cause..  The White House URL for the petition is: .

If this petition gets 5,000 signatures by November 02, 2011,
the White House will review it and respond!

We the People allows anyone to create and sign petitions asking the Obama Administration to take action on a range of issues.  If a petition gets enough support, the Obama Administration will issue an official response.

Below is a copy of the petition:

WE PETITION THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION TO: require that spectrum lessees be charged market rates like other lessees of public assets such as land and buildings.

Since World War II, the Federal government has given away as much as $480 billion in spectrum rights to the private sector, including wealthy individuals and highly profitable corporations such as TV broadcasters, satellite operators, and mobile phone carriers. In the early 1990s, Congress mandated that spectrum rights be allocated by auction. But most spectrum rights have continued to be given away, often with a pretext of public interest obligations that are unenforced and later renegotiated. The Obama Administration has engaged in much talk about spectrum auctions and fees, but most spectrum rights have continued to be given away. When the government transfers spectrum rights from the American public to private corporations, the public should receive fair compensation for its property.

Cecilia Kang, Lightsquared, FCC faces criticism from Republican lawmakers, The Washington Post, September 29, 2011

Cited Article

Cecilia Kang, Lightsquared, FCC faces criticism from Republican lawmakers, The Washington Post, September 29, 2011


“LightSquared chief executive Sanjiv Ahuja…added that the company received no special favors from the FCC.”

My Comments

This quote is rich, very rich, considering that the FCC has granted LightSquared billions of dollars of taxpayer assets without any public compensation.  Note that the Washington Post reporter provides no hint that LightSquared’s statement is misleading, to put it mildly.

Sara Jerome, “White House Gets Specific—And Potentially Some New Critics—On Telecom Policy,” National Journal, September 13, 2011

Cited Article

Sara Jerome, White House Gets Specific—And Potentially Some New Critics—On Telecom Policy, National Journal, September 13, 2011

My Comments 

Unless the President’s bill includes specific and credible
language designating the fraction of “incentive auction” proceeds
from the TV band that will go to the government, the CRS should score the
proceeds at zero dollars.

Gautham Nagesh, “Eshoo repeats call for national public-safety network,” the Hill, September 7, 2011

Cited Article

Gautham Nagesh, Eshoo repeats call for national public-safety network, the Hill, September 7, 2011

 Article Quote

Rep. Eshoo: “On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, a fitting tribute to our first-responders, who fought so bravely to save lives and lost their own…”

 My Comment

A “fitting tribute”?  What could be less of a fitting tribute than to cynically attach to a bill celebrating the heroism and good will associated with our first responders enabling legislation for a corporate giveaway worth likely tens of billions of dollars to an off-the-charts highly profitable industry that has callously warehoused and misused spectrum at the expense of both first responders and the public since the late 1980s?

Stacey Higginbotham, “Super Wi-Fi or white spaces, what’s up with unlicensed broadband?,” Gigaom, Sept. 1, 2011

Cited Article

Stacey Higginbotham, Super Wi-Fi or white spaces, what’s up with unlicensed broadband?, Gigaom, Sept. 1, 2011

My Comment

I’d like to know the relative amount and quality of the spectrum allocated to unlicensed devices in the white spaces in both the U.S. and U.K. The original plan in the U.S. was to have a meaningful amount of white spaces allocated to unlicensed. Due to the power of the broadcast lobby, the white spaces available for unlicensed was significantly whittled down until, it could be argued, not much more than the dregs were left. Not surprisingly, commercial interest in so-called Super WiFi also dropped. But in the U.K., the broadcast lobby isn’t as all-powerful (this largely has to do with its parliamentary system), as evidenced by its digital transition, which did a much better job of limiting socially harmful windfalls to the broadcast lobby. This suggests the U.K. may also have done a better job with the white spaces allocated for unlicensed.

Juliana Gruenwald, “State Attorneys General Call for Reallocation Of Spectrum For Public Safety Network,” Tech Daily Dose, August 30, 2011

Cited Article

Juliana Gruenwald, State Attorneys General Call for Reallocation Of Spectrum For Public Safety Network, Tech Daily Dose, August 30, 2011

My Comment

How cynical of Jay Rockefeller and Kay Bailey Hutchinson to use the cover of 9/11 and public safety to orchestrate one of the biggest corporate giveaways in America history.  While everyone is publicly focused on the public safety portion of their bill, the economically most important part of the bill is its orchestration of a giveaway worth tens of billions of dollars to incumbent broadcasters, some of the most politically powerful and profitable corporations in America.

Editorial, “Wireless tech: Give our airwaves some air,” Los Angeles Times, August 23, 2011

Cited Article

Editorial, Wireless tech: Give our airwaves some air, Los Angeles Times, August 23, 2011

My Comment

Shame on the Los Angeles Times for advocating a giveaway to the broadcast industry worth tens of billions of dollars while not acknowledging that, as part of the Tribune Company, one of the largest TV broadcasting conglomerates in the U.S., it stands to gain a windfall of spectrum rights worth hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions, from the giveaway.

According to the most rudimentary standards of journalistic ethics (and ones the Los Angeles Times claims to subscribe to), the Los Angeles Times should acknowledge such a gross conflict of interest in writing a self-serving editorial like this.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the editorial is almost a carbon copy of the talking points that the Tribune Company’s spectrum lobbyists in DC have been using.

Admittedly, one has to have a lot of background knowledge to read through all the lobbyist inspired spin in the article.   Perhaps the editors are as clueless as the public when they read this type of lobbyist inspired spin.

Admittedly, too, the unlicensed stuff isn’t in the broadcasters’ official playbook.  But that also represents less than 1% of the spectrum assets that Congress plans to give away to the broadcast industry, including the Tribune company.

Brendan Sasso, “Rep. Dingell ‘deeply disturbed’ by FCC’s response to query on spectrum sales,” The Hill, August 16, 2011

Cited Article

Brendan Sasso, Rep. Dingell ‘deeply disturbed’ by FCC’s response to query on spectrum sales, The Hill, August 16, 2011

My Comment

Rep. Dingell should be granted an award (a nefarious one) for so blatantly advocating corporate welfare at public expense.  His shameless (but below the public radar) advocacy of giveaways to the broadcast industry over the last 20+ years has cost U.S. taxpayers tens of billions of dollars and done tremendous harm to the U.S. economy by thwarting the development of ubiquitous wireless broadband networks.  Dingell’s payoff?  Great TV coverage, including an insurance policy against negative coverage, in his Congressional district, which helps explain why he has been able to hold onto his seat for so long.

Kim Hart and Brooks Boliek, “FCC refereeing airwaves fight,” Politico, August 3, 2011

Cited Article

Kim Hart and Brooks Boliek, FCC refereeing airwaves fight, Politico, August 3, 2011

My Comment

The educational TV programmers in the 2.4 MHZ band have had such a long history of lying about their existing and planned uses of spectrum that they should have no credibility by now.  But, of course, the FCC and the trade press have no recollection of such fraudulent statements (nor is there any indication that they would care if they knew), so history tends to just keep repeating itself.

It would be nice if reporters such as Kim Hart and Brooks Boliek had any interest or ability to tease out the BS.   Perhaps this is not surprising given that the owners of Politico are some of the most active spectrum lobbyists in the U.S. (they have significant commercial TV and radio holdings in addition to Politico)–a fact that Kim Hart and Brooks Boliek consistently fail to acknowledge.  It would probably be awkward to reveal the type of spectrum lobbying BS their bosses routinely endorse, so there may at least occasionally be more purposiveness to their shallow reporting than meets the eye.

Kim Severson, "As Weather Becomes Big Story, TV Forecasters Play the Hero," New York Times, July 19, 2011

Cited Article

Kim Severson, As Weather Becomes Big Story, TV Forecasters Play the Hero, New York Times, July 19, 2011

My Comment

This article reads like a press release from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the major lobbying arm of the local TV broadcast industry. The NAB is currently seeking a spectrum windfall from Congress worth tens of billions of dollars, and the emergency information argument contained in this article is central to their lobbying campaign. I’d love to know who pitched the article to Kim Severson, the author. I’d also like to know how Kim got the featured anecdote concerning Ms. Eller. I’d be willing to bet that there is a story there. Lobbyists for the local broadcast TV industry are brilliant at getting these types of articles placed. They then distribute them to policymakers when seeking political favors.

Adweek's losing battle against journalistic standards

Cited Article

Katy Bachman, Air War It’s TV vs. phones in Washington’s explosive broadband battle, AdWeek, May 25, 2011.

Article Quote

“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.”

My Comment

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.



Jessell, Harry, Broadcasting's Future is all About Mobile, TVNewsCheck, May 20, 2011.

Jessell, Harry, “Broadcasting’s Future is all About Mobile,” TVNewsCheck, May 20, 2011.

Favorite Quote

“And for the long term, the ATSC has also begun work on the next-generation of digital TV broadcasting, which could be ready within five years. The next-gen system will close the gap between wireless broadband and broadcast….”

The elephant in Blair Levin's spectrum lair

Cited Article

Levin, Blair, Spectrum Overhaul Long Overdue, The Hill, May 10, 2011

Article Quote

Blair Levin, primary author of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, says: “The question we should be debating is, what process should we use to reallocate spectrum to achieve our country’s purposes?  There are only four alternatives.”

My Comment

I disagree both that there are only four questions and that he has presented the most critical ones.  For me, there is hierarchy of questions, starting with: “Should we allocate spectrum according to the dictates of special interest politics or the public welfare?”

If the answer is special interest politics, then we should allocate spectrum to maximize the windfall to incumbents.  That seems to me like a pretty good summary of how we’ve allocated spectrum over the last 80 years.

If the answer is public welfare, then Levin’s questions are more relevant.   However, in any case, they are distinctly secondary to the more fundamental question of whether we should continue to allocate spectrum based on the preferences of the common weal or those of some of the wealthiest individuals and most profitable corporations in the world.

Arguably, no other natural resource owned by the American public is allocated more corruptly than spectrum.  Until our policymakers acknowledge that reality and make institutional reforms to correct it (see my “Art of Spectrum Lobbying” for suggestions), the high minded debate that Levin wants to hold will be irrelevant–a mere smokescreen–and the past corruption in spectrum allocation the best indicator of the future.

Why does Levin consistently ignore this ignoble past and likely future in his public musings?  I’ll leave that for you to figure out.  If you can, you’re well on your way to understanding why our spectrum policy is such a mess.

Recent Relevant Articles

Mark Miller, NAB’s Smith: Spectrum Crucial To Next-Gen, TVNewsCheck, May 10, 2011

John Eggerton, Smith: Forced Spectrum Move Could Destroy Innovation, Broadcasting & Cable, May 10, 2011

Harry Jessel, So Soon?  Next Gen Broadcast TV in the Works, TVNewsCheck, April 27, 2011

Deborah McAdams, Mobile DTV Group Lines Up Conditional-Access Technology, TVB, March 9, 2011

Politico, which has a dog in this fight, blesses the giveback canard

Cited Article

Peter Passell and Robert Hahn, The FCC’s Trillion-Dollar Gambit, Politico, April 29, 2011

Article Quote

“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.”

My Comment

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.

Recent Related Articles

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:

New York Times follows the money but misses the influence

Cited Article

Wyatt, A Clash Over Airwaves, New York Times, April 22, 2011 (featured on page B1).

Cited Quote

“Sounds kind of like a bank holdup to me,“ Representative John D. Dingell, a prominent Michigan Democrat, told Julius Genachowski, the F.C.C. chairman, at a hearing in February. “You hold a gun at the teller’s head and say, ‘We know that you are going to voluntarily give me this money. If you don’t, I’m going to shoot you.’ “

My Commentary

During his long career in Congress, including as head of the U.S. House Commerce Committee with jurisdiction over broadcasting, Rep. Dingell has never seen a TV broadcast subsidy he didn’t like.  He was also the champion of Jim Quello, a local Michigan TV broadcaster, who he got  appointed to the FCC and who shamelessly supported tens of billions of dollars worth of public rights giveaways to the TV broadcasters. Dingell has been rewarded by his local TV broadcasters not with campaign cash but with favorable TV  coverage.  It is a  travesty of our political and media system that he should have been able to do so much harm to the American people while being politically rewarded for it.   By implying that the way the broadcast industry exerts political influence is solely or primarily through campaign contributions, the article fundamentally misleads the public.   The article fits in the long tradition of giving Dingell a pass and taking his statements, however absurd they might be, at face value.

Why the press engages in exposes of lawmakers who give a few hundred thousand dollars in an earmark to a legitimate if questionable local project but ignores a spectrum rights giveaway of billions of dollars to some of America’s wealthiest individuals and most profitable companies is beyond me.


Broadcasters' windfall strategy goes beyond merely preventing incentive auctions

Cited Article

David Lieberman, Who Will Blink First Over TV Spectrum? Obama Administration Battles Broadcasters, Deadline New York, April 18, 2011.

Article Quote

“The NAB’s biggest concern is that the government might seizespectrum without a broadcaster’s consent. CBS chief Les Moonves echoed that message when he said last week that, as long as it “remains voluntary, we’re fine with that. Because we’re not going to volunteer….  The Obama administration wants TV stations to give up some of their spectrum so it can be redeployed to offer Internet services….”

My Comment

The TV broadcasters are holding out to get 100% of the windfall from the shift to mobile broadband internet uses of their spectrum.  All this talk about broadcast vs. internet is largely a smokescreen for this negotiating ploy.  Broadcasters are moving as fast as they can, without being too blatant, in transitioning to internet services.  In other words, they are trying to become what they purport to criticize.  Their acquisition of geographic area licensing (vs. site-based licensing) and mobile TV rights in recent years–both acquired below the public radar and without public compensation–is just the tip of the iceberg of this strategy.  From the broadcasters’ perspective, too, every day they hold out the demand for spectrum increases and with that their potential windfall.

Lieberman has basically gotten it right.  But the extra details matter, and the broadcasters aren’t going to volunteer them.  For example, when Les Moonves says he’s not going to participate in voluntary auctions, he’s only telling you half of the story.  The other half is that he wants to keep his cake and eat it, too; that is, capture the entire windfall from broadcasters’ abandoning broadcasting in the name of preserving it.

Recent Related Articles

Letter from CTIA to members of Congress, March 17, 2011

Cecilia Kang, President Obama pitches $18 billion wireless broadband plan, Washington Post, February 10, 2011.

The FCC’s Incentive Auction Proposal, Remarks by FCC Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake to National Alliance of State Broadcaster Associations, February 28, 2011.