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Here comes MVDDS, sort of

We can't blame Northpoint for feeling like the Little Red Hen. Having put most of the work into paving the way for the new MVDDS service okayed by the FCC last week, it must watch as a host of competitors belly up to the table. Even Chairman Powell acknowledged the company's pioneering work, although his response was, in effect, "tough luck."

Frankly, the FCC decision to permit terrestrial use of DBS spectrum seemed to raise more questions than it answered.

The FCC advertised the authorization as paving the way for new competition in the delivery of multichannel video services. Perhaps, but not necessarily: If the better business model is to provide high-speed Internet access only, the winners of the new spectrum may go that route and contribute nothing to video competition.

The Satellite Broadcasting & Communications Association was looking for assurances that the FCC had "adequately" addressed the "significant interference threat" to its subscribers. It was not convinced, nor for that matter was at least one commissioner, Kevin Martin, whose criticism of the lack of interference protection was far stronger.

Then there is the provision that incumbent DBS companies can bid on the spectrum but cable companies with significant overlaps cannot. Since the FCC has said multichannel video can be treated as a single market in judging competition (the only way an EchoStar/ DirecTV merger could pass muster), this disparate treatment strikes us as curious.

There are other issues, including how friendly this setup is to carriage of broadcast stations (see story, page 46). Suffice it to say that MVDDS may yet be added to the list of familiar media monograms. For now, though, it remains a work very much in progress.

Don't do it

If TV wants to go wall to wall with Robert Blake, how about a Baretta
marathon or analyze In Cold Blood
scene by scene, run Blood Feud
until even the unions cry uncle. But we say leave it to the entertainment side or the tabloid mags to milk this story.

The last thing we need, particularly if a judge can be talked into televising the trial, is the kind of media circus that attended the news over-coverage of O.J. and, more recently, Gary Condit. We are not saying these aren't legitimate news stories: O.J. and Blake were charged with murder, and Condit is a congressman. But there is a difference between covering a story and fueling a "get" war over every sighting of the bereaved-sister-turned-CNN-star, particularly in a world filled with real news.

The Blake coverage has not yet taken on the mythic proportions of an O.J. or Condit, but we can see smoke from a distant fire. Better to contain it now than watch as your news department's credibility goes up in flames.