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John M. Eger

John M. Eger

Posted: February 14, 2011 01:40 PM

At the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held this year in Las Vegas, all the talk was "smart phones and connected TV's" according to a CNET expert panel.

They proclaimed the PC was dead -- and all the old media too. Read that newspapers, and broadcasting. Somehow both are finding ways of surviving, some of them anyway. But it will never be the same. And maybe it was inevitable.

As the long battle over frequency spectrum or airwaves escalates, consumer demand for more wireless services -- from health care and safety, to news, entertainment and information products and services -- will compel the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to stop the free give away of spectrum to broadcasters.

Yes, "once upon a time" government gave all broadcasters the spectrum they needed because it was felt they served people and communities across the nation, and would provide the news and information they needed to preserve and enhance a democratic system.

It's sad in a way.

After all, together with all the other television stations across the country, the networks knitted the nation together more intimately than advances in railroads or the interstate highway system -- it was the nations "water cooler". They also can be credited with revolutionizing both commerce and politics.

But that was yesterday.


When cable TV cable along the nets tried to destroy the industry. So too, cable networks. Even the proliferation of the videocassettes and remote controllers were suspect. Indeed, anything that affected the distribution of the networks' news and entertainment business or cut into its profits was automatically a target of intense competitive behavior.

After all, when there were only three networks, each had at least one third of a huge market. The theory was it could always be that way. Beside they said, "Why would anybody want 500 channels?"

More highly targeted, interactive media has now replaced so-called mass communications. "Broadcasting" after all merely defines a technology, not a business model. And broadcasters, and media in general, were nowhere to be seen or heard from in Las Vegas.

Yes there are still networks, and television stations across the country and smart people like Holman Jenkins of the Wall Street Journal are saying maybe it's time "to put over-the-air broadcasting out of it's misery."

And why not? More often than not you watch courtesy of a cable system that passes by your house. And in the future, all the so-called television programming will be at one web site or another, available at the click of your mouse, wherever you are, whatever device you happen to have with you.

Admittedly there was a time when broadcaster took the "public "role seriously.

Each year they interviewed community leaders, talked with community groups, heard all the community's complaints and "ascertained" the issues -- hopes and dreams -- that the community most cared about. The stations then programmed in such a manner that those issues were aired. Each year, and at the time of the station's "license renewal," they would tell the FCC how they had served the community.

This obligation slowly faded away.

The FCC also removed the stations' obligation under a so-called "Fairness Doctrine" that required broadcasters to cover all sides of a "controversial issue". Why? Because the Commission and the broadcasters said, the "Fairness" obligation really impeded their rights of Free Speech. There are a host of other rules, requirements and obligations that stations once followed as a "pubic trustee".

Maybe you didn't know it but wireless companies routinely bid millions, sometimes billions, for the right to use those frequencies. Broadcasters, by contrast, pay nothing because they serve a higher order, the "public interest."

Not anymore. The net, net is that the public interest concept of broadcasting is gone.

Yet, broadcasters are occupying about $ 70 billion dollars of frequency spectrum. The resale and reallocation, analysts say, represents another one trillion dollars in new revenue.

The other shoe is yet to drop. But surely it will. Our National Treasury and our nation could benefit by the end of the give away.

 
 
 

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