Broadcast, Wireless Industries Keep Powder Dry

The heads of the broadcast and wireless industries left the
tough rhetoric at home Tuesday as they each made their cases for the future of
spectrum in an increasingly broadband-centric world.

National Association of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith
and CTIA President Steve Largent avoided turning the proceedings in a
referendum on the relative value of broadcasting versus broadband.

Smith said that either/or was a false choice, and that would
need to be part of the communications future. Largent's focus was on getting
more spectrum, "wherever it comes from."

All the witnesses were in agreement on the two baseline
bills that were the subject of the hearing in the House Energy & Commerce
Committee Communications Subcommittee. Those bills would require the FCC and
National Telecommunications & Information Administration to inventory
spectrum use with an eye toward freeing up more for wireless broadband and then
to find a more efficient way to re-auction and reallocate that spectrum.

The hearing touched on a number of points, including
alternatives to reclaiming spectrum from broadcasters that included dynamic
spectrum sharing, compression and modulation improvements that would make more
efficient use of the current spectrum holdings.

But Dale Hatfield, an independent consultant and former
chief of the Office of Engineering and Technology at the FCC, said that while
such spectrum efficiency measures like compression and modulation would help,
they would likely not be enough, and that the most promising avenues were reclaiming
spectrum and sharing.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) a former broadcaster, brought up
the recent revelations about the FCC's new Distinguished Scholar in Residence,
Stuart Benjamin, who wrote a provocative essay suggesting broadcasters should
be regulated out of existence and their spectrum turned over for better uses.

Walden called it "offensive" and "an
abomination" and did not understand why he had been named to his post by
the FCC.  He asked Smith whether
Benjamin's counsel would lead to "just throwing $2 billion in the paper
shredder," the figure Smith had said earlier the government spent to make
sure viewers with analog TV's could still get an over-the-air signal after the
switch to digital.

Smith agreed, saying it would be throwing away taxpayers'
money, plus the billions spend on HDTV TV's to get the new over-the-air signal,
which broadcasters argue is superior to that delivered over cable.  "Suffice to say my phone has been ringing
off the hook ever since this gentleman's work was revealed," he said.

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.