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Guest Blog: Sinclair Exec on Keeping Spectrum and Cutting Deficits

Sinclair Broadcasting Group VP of Advanced Technology Mark Aitken filed the following guest blog on why broadcasters should hold on to their spectrum and use it to help pay down the debt. That comes as incentive auctions of spectrum the government plans to reclaim from broadcasters have been pitched as a revenue raiser for the treasury. His views do not necessarily reflect those of Broadcasting & Cable.

Commentary and Views of a Committed Broadcast Engineer

Have television Broadcasters given up the fight to retain ownership of their entire spectrum? This is a fight that affects ALL Broadcasters, yet the ‘soft positioning’ leaves doubt about industry convictions. Is this ‘soft positioning’ being driven by those with little to lose and no belly for the real fight? One has to wonder if the groups with large VHF spectrum ownership are huddled on the sidelines not knowing what to do.

I have an idea! The television broadcast UHF spectrum should be used by Broadcasters to drive new revenues and pay down the national debt. I know with certainty that given proper latitude, Broadcasters could provide greater than a 4X multiple ‘payback’ to the treasury by retaining its ownership and control of the UHF spectrum and working collaboratively with the MNOs (Mobile Network Operators - the ‘Carriers’).

The debate regarding UHF spectrum today is deaf to the facts about what value Broadcasters bring as wireless public service providers (we ARE wireless…remember that!). Forget about the value of being the first to inform about any number of impending crisis’s (tornadoes, floods, hurricanes…name your impending doom). Forget about the value of a service that is free for any and all American’s to receive over-the-air. If free over-the-air television disappears, how does America continue to ensure its electorate is freely informed? Forget about the regulatory restrictions that have driven this industry into a corner that only deregulation can allow us out of (we could be innovators if Washington allowed it!) The debate has simply turned into a question of paying down the national debt!

Here is a perspective that few, if any, have heard as of recent. Let Broadcasters help pay down the debt!

Television Broadcasters could provide a 4X multiple ‘payback’ towards the national debt over the next decade (and continue as an annuity thereafter) as compared to a one-time “voluntary auction” many of your representatives in Washington seem ‘hell-bent’ on demanding. Yes, television Broadcasters could do more towards making good on the promise of new and innovative wireless services than any “make the public pay” services being foreseen as the replacement in the UHF television spectrum. All we need is the regulatory and technical freedom to do so.

So what might that mean (what is the price for that freedom)?

It means that Washington needs to rewrite the rules for Broadcasters much as they have done for countless other wireless services. It means that Washington needs to allow a degree of freedom to reinvent the services Broadcasters could provide in conjunction with its use of the television spectrum. It means that television Broadcasters should be allowed the freedom to work with other wireless service providers and carriers to develop the means to collaboratively use the television broadcast spectrum more effectively. Is that asking too much? The National Broadband Plan was aimed at doing exactly this!

If the job of regulating spectrum has become blind to the needs of the American public, then I have a better idea. Let me bring the parties to the table and have the discussion and provide the assurance that folks with public service in their hearts can have the freedom to end the debate on simple, economic grounds.

Television Broadcasters could provide a multi-billion payoff towards the mounting national debt over a period of a decade if granted the freedom and authority to do so…4X (or perhaps more) what the government is (unrealistically) expecting from a one-time auction. And after the multi-billion…a continuing yearly annuity that could provide continuing debt relief for all!

You make the decision, what makes more sense? Let Washington sell off television spectrum to wireless providers that charge for every service offered? Or demand television Broadcasters retain their spectrum and be given the regulatory and technological freedom to help the US get out of its budgetary mess? If I had the job offered to me to make the later happen I’d take it in an instant!

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.