FCC Spectrum Scholar Takes Dead Aim At Broadcasters

Looks like the FCC's first Distinguished Scholar in Residence, Stuart Benjamin, could prove a defender of broadcast content on a medium he would like to regulate out of existence.

He was named to that post Thursday, with the charter of musing over spectrum and the First Amendment.

While the Parents Television Counsel has weighed in against the Duke University Law School professor for defending indecent content, his writings, according to the Duke Web site, include an essay in which he advocates supporting new regulations "that will make broadcasting unprofitable, to hasten its demise."

He also says that such regulation has to be the right kind, lest it "entrench broadcasting's place on the airwaves."

Benjamin, according to the online abstract for the piece, said he is "not entirely" serious in proposing what he calls "ideal regulations," which would be "pure deadweight loss - regulations that cost broadcasters significant amounts of money but have no impact on their behavior."

But he does say he thinks that society would benefit if the broadcast spectrum were reclaimed for wireless, something the FCC's broadband team has been pushing and broadcasters have been pushing back hard against.

Benjamin has written extensively about opening up the broadcast frequencies to wireless, including that the FCC's pursuit of indecency might actually aid in the eventual reclamation of spectrum if it discourages live coverage of events.

"As matters stand right now," he blogged back in May, "local television broadcasters have a new disincentive to airing live local events - and viewers have less reason to watch local broadcasters.... "This is probably for the best. Only 14% of households rely on over-the-air television broadcasting (86% subscribe to cable or satellite). The government could reclaim and auction the spectrum used by broadcasters -as it has auctioned most other frequencies -and use a small fraction of that money to subsidize cable or satellite for those who cannot afford it. The reclaimed airwaves could then be opened to other uses that would allow for new and enhanced cellular and wireless internet services on newly plentiful frequencies. Many telecommunications policy analysts have long favored this option as the best fiscal and technological policy, but so far little has happened. Maybe the FCC's revulsion at the ‘f-word' can achieve what fiscal and technological arguments couldn't."

"Stuart Benjamin is a tenured professor at one of the nation's finest law schools and the author of the standard textbook on telecommunications law, "said a spokesperson for FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. "He is joining the Commission as the first Distinguished Scholar in Residence in keeping with Chairman Genachowski's overall approach of hiring extraordinarily talented people with wide-ranging viewpoints to enrich internal discussion within the agency. "

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.