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Analyst Sees Spectrum Appetite Slowdown in CTIA Stats

The National Association of Broadcasters Monday was pointing
to an op-ed on GigaOM by Telecom, Media and Finance Associates president Tim
Farrar suggesting the spectrum crunch wasn't as looming as the wireless
industry makes it out to be.

In the piece, "The
Myth of the Wireless Spectrum Crisis,"
Farrar takes aim at stats that
CTIA: The Wireless Association released showing a 104% increase in consumer
data traffic, saying that does not tell the whole story, a tale he says CTIA
was trying to spin.

CTIA fired back that it was not spinning, and the stats do
show a usage curve "that is shooting up dramatically."

Farrar says there was actually a "dramatic"
slowdown in data traffic that was not reflected in the CTIA numbers because
they were for 12 months, not six months, and suggests CTIA was trying to spin
those numbers. He says for the first six months of 2012, growth was just 21%,
down from 54% growth in the last half of 2011. On a per-device basis, he says,
that is only a 3% increase in traffic, compared to a 29% growth between the
first and second halves on 2011.

"CTIA doesn't want anyone to realize that, because it
is significantly at variance with CTIA's narrative of an impending 'spectrum
crunch' into which so much lobbying effort has been invested," he writes.

Dr. Robert Roche, CTIA VP of research, who is responsible for the survey, fired
back in a blog posting that any suggestion the FCC was trying to hide
information was "categorically false and disingenuous."

"CTIA's interest is in fact-based analysis, not
speculative and hyperbolic insinuations. The fact of the matter is that American's
data usage did increase, whether you look at twelve-month or six-month
increments," he blogged. "In the press release and on our website,
we did change how we reported the MB of data, but only to make it parallel to
how we reported the other traffic measures, not as six-month but as
twelve-month volumes...[D]ismissing 'a so-called spectrum crunch' ignores not
just a consensus in the U.S., it neglects the global nature of the analysis
that calls for more commercial spectrum allocation around the world, to
accommodate growing numbers of users and increasingly complex uses."

Broadcasters and the wireless industry have been in a
tug-of-war over spectrum, with broadcasters arguing that there has been
warehousing by some companies, and not enough emphasis on making more efficient
use of the spectrum they already have. Cellular carriers say there is a crunch
that could become a crisis if more spectrum is not freed up.

The FCC has teed up an incentive auction framework that will
reclaim and auction up to 120 MHz of spectrum -- likely something south of that
-- by 2014. The
National Telecommunications and Information Administration has been charged

with freeing up government-used spectrum and has found 96 MHz for repurposing
and is now emphasizing spectrum sharing by government entities to free up more.

The president's and FCC's goal is to free up 300 MHz of
spectrum for wireless broadband within five years and 500 within 10 years.

Broadcasters will look for more info from the FCC on how it
plans to reclaim spectrum and repack the remaining broadcasters into smaller
space to free up contiguous bands in markets where spectrum is in short supply,
primarily larger urban areas with lots of folks accessing content via mobile

John Eggerton
John Eggerton

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.