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The Spectrum "Crunch" Bar

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Who Gets Candy from the FCC?
At the NAB conference in Las Vegas in April, it was all about the mobile small-screen device, creating branded entertainment for mobile users, and how broadcasters and telecom companies are vying to get more spectrum to harness the audience. The National Association of Broadcasters says: make the spectrum auction happen now for TV to continue digitization and over the air broadcasting.

It's the TV guys versus the telcos on spectrum allocations and auction terms. There is a complete "pissing match" in Washington about how the FCC spectrum distribution will work! FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski walks on a fine line in the National Broadband Plan.

He's become more of a diplomat -- speaking recently at both NAB and in late April at Brookings Institution. Let's examine the competing views from NAB, Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the mobile industry association, CTIA. Winners will leverage billions of dollars in revenue.

"We're not surprised the CEA continues its misinformation campaign with more bogus studies and polling," says Dennis Wharton, Communications VP at NAB. "CEA is apparently not aware the number of broadcast TV viewers is growing, not shrinking." (TV serves 40 million per day.)

NAB issued a report claiming more efficiency on existing broadband will solve the capacity issue. Its white paper released at Brookings says: "The factual basis of the spectrum crunch is underwhelming. The fundamental question of how much spectrum mobile carriers need remains uncertain. The notion of a need for large-scale reallocation (to mobile) is based on questionable assumptions designed to achieve a particular result," writes Uzoma Oneyeije.

Network technology upgrades will promote spectral efficiency, says NAB, thus undercutting mobile and electronics manufacturers in their spectrum grab. They say the broadband spectrum crisis is "science fiction."

FCC Commissioner Meredith Atwell Baker brought some clarity: "Mobile broadband use is doubling every year and will continue to do until 2014. We must develop a plan to address this need, while providing more flexibility to broadcasters to determine their own competitive path. The commission's plan for spectrum can be a win/win for wireless broadband and for broadcast. I don't view incentive auctions and more flexible broadcast use as mutually exclusive choices," she said diplomatically.

Marshall Eubanks, an MIT physicist, spoke at the NAB conference on telepresence over digital broadband networks. He's an expert and owns a company called AmericaFree.tv. His rationale is that "Americans and global users are cutting the cord" on traditional TV. In fact, AFTV has over 16 million global viewers particularly in the Middle East and China where 'broadcast' is restricted but HD digital TV on the net is open.

NAB's Wharton disagrees by noting "most Americans still rely on broadcasting as their primary source for news." Maybe not for long?

Other signatories to this call to relieve the "Spectrum Crunch" included the Telecomm Industries Association (TIA) and the U.S. Telecommunications Association (USTA). They chimed-in but with caveats. Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) issued a joint statement siding with device makers (of course) and mobile. More broadband is fair. Who gets it is debatable. Chris Guttman-McCabe, VP of Regulatory Affairs for the CTIA, says we are already falling behind on mobile broadband:

"Tokyo has 747 megahertz of spectrum," said Guttman-McCabe. London has 707 megahertz of spectrum. The U.S. has 404 megahertz. He wisely notes that FCC "look at spectrum policy in a holistic view. It cannot be (just) about incentive auctions The purpose has to be to find areas where spectrum is underused and repurpose it for broadband."

"I think it is silly to suggest that wireless isn't exploding and wireless won't be part of the solution to the digital divide," said the CTIA regulatory guy at Brookings. Note that the Wikipedia graphics shows in developed countries, the penetration of mobile is 97% out of 100. And the Brookings Institution report says 99 percent of smart phones will have WiFi capability within the next two years? Goodbye TV? In fact, in South Korea 23 million people use digital mobile broadcast. They watch content and TV programs on smart cellular phones!

NAB Executive Director Edward O. Fritts retired this year and turned the gavel over to Gordon Smith. In his parting remarks, Fritts said the fight is over spectrum: "There is a developing coalition of presidential politics, FCC fervor, and an entire telecommunications industry out to minimize or dismiss the invaluable contributions that local broadcasters provide every day across America for the public good," he intoned. "There is a campaign characterized by sharp elbows, enormous war chests and a public notion that if it computes it must be good! Broadcasting and Broadband can be complementary services."

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