Timing is everything, and in the case of the spectrum crunch, it seems as though getting more spectrum freed up is at risk for some serious delays. No wonder CTIA has been sounding the horn for quite a while now.
The rhetoric hit a high this week as the NAB Show got under way in Las Vegas. While FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski certainly seemed to do his part to allay concerns, the NAB is sticking to its guns. NAB President Gordon Smith said as much during his address today. “We are in full battle mode to protect broadcasters from being forced to give up spectrum involuntarily,” Gordon is quoted as saying by Broadcasting & Cable.
“Involuntarily” seems to be the operative word here. There’s a “voluntary incentive auction” on the table here. What’s got the NAB in such a tizzy?
Genachowski noted that at last year’s NAB, he spoke about demand for spectrum and how it was dramatically outstripping supply, driven by smartphones that place a demand on spectrum 24 times as much as feature phones. That was before tablets even hit the market and took off faster than projected – and they place a demand on spectrum that is 120 times that of the old feature phones.
He characterized certain arguments – like those posed by the NAB – as fundamental distractions, like the idea there is no spectrum crunch. (While I think it’s always good to be skeptical, it’s time to move on. There is a real need for spectrum.)
Then there’s this idea of doing a big spectrum inventory, which has sounded relatively benign to me, but I’m starting to think it’s probably just another delay tactic. The chairman said the commission’s extensive prior work on spectrum and baseline spectrum inventory makes clear that there are only a few major opportunities to unleash spectrum, and there’s no big swath of unused spectrum that the FCC has missed. Again, time to move along.
This is not to say other sides are playing completely square. The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) released poll results this week showing a “huge majority of Americans favor auction of underutilized broadcast spectrum.” According to the poll, Americans, by a 6:1 ration, would prefer that spectrum be used for faster wireless services rather than over-the-air local broadcast television. I’m no authority on survey methodology and I know a lot of people who are getting their news online and via wireless rather than relying on someone telling them when they need to tune in. But I’ve got a couple gripes.
One – and apologies for stating the obvious – but when you do a poll and release the results, you typically aren’t going to publish something counter to your argument, especially if you represent a certain industry segment. Two, this assumes the majority of Americans understand this whole auction process, how spectrum is used and so on. While I may be remiss in the confidence I have in the general online population to understand these things, it strikes me as the kind of topic that requires a lot more than an explanation in a poll question. A “huge majority” of Americans even understand the auction process? Really?
Back to the FCC chairman’s remarks today, he attempted to allay some other NAB concerns as well, like those around so-called spectrum warehousing and the notion that incentive auctions would somehow stop mobile DTV (which, for the record, it won’t.) He went on to outline other ramifications, but after his address, the NAB’s Smith, a former Republican Senator from Oregon, went on the counter-attack. Smith noted that broadcasters gave up spectrum as part of the conversion to digital TV two years ago and said: “We already gave at the office.”
Well, nice sound bite but CTIA called them out. CTIA President and CEO Steve Largent, in a statement issued today, said he’s not inclined to respond to NAB every time it repeats its opposition to incentive auctions, but the association felt compelled to respond in this case. “These kinds of stall tactics are unnecessary and need to stop,” read his statement in part. That pretty well sums it up.
It should be noted that Congress still needs to grant the FCC the authority to conduct voluntary incentive auctions, making this seem even farther into the future.
Filed Under: Industry regulations