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NAB: TWC, Wireless Companies Are 'Hoarding' Spectrum

The National Association of Broadcasters sent letters to key legislators last week saying they should not allow Time Warner Cable and others to warehouse spectrum, given the "alleged" shortage that has prompted the FCC to try to move broadcasters off some of their spectrum.

NAB cited a report in Communications Daily that Time Warner Cable had no plans to sell or use its AWS (advanced wireless services) spectrum licenses, and other reports that wireless companies were sitting on as much as $15 billion worth of spectrum that has not been deployed.

NAB President Gordon Smith asked the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Commerce Committees to pass spectrum inventory legislation to find out who "may be sitting on unused airwaves."

He said that the "spectrum speculation" suggested by a Time Warner Cable executive in the Communications Daily report was the "wrong approach" to solving a spectrum crisis, if there is one.

Time Warner Cable had not responded at press time, but CTIA: The Wireless Association had plenty to say. Sounding particularly altruistic, CTIA President Steve Largent said his industry wanted the FCC to free up more spectrum "we can purchase it and give the U.S. Treasury billions of dollars. Then, we'll use the spectrum to keep innovating and fueling the ‘virtuous cycle' for our customers....We are not asking for anything for free. Rather, we are willing to spend tens of billions of dollars more to the government so that we make sure that we can continue to lead the wireless revolution."

Largent said that the President, FCC and Congress have made it clear that broadband is a vital economic simulator. "That is why it's baffling that the NAB chooses to challenge a voluntary incentive spectrum auction," he said. "Considering the U.S. has a wireless penetration rate of 93 percent versus the broadcasters who only serve about 10 percent of the U.S. population over the air, we see this as a great opportunity for broadcasters who are literally sitting on more than a 100 megahertz of unused spectrum to contribute their spectrum and get compensated. It's truly a win-win for their members and industry. More importantly, it is a huge win for consumers."

The National Association of Broadcasters has said it is not opposed to the government plan if broadcasters' move is truly voluntary and they are compensated. But it has also argued that broadcasters' one-to-many delivery model is more efficient than the cellular distribution the FCC is so high on, and that broadcasters have reason to hang on to their spectrum to delivery high-quality HDTV pictures and new services like mobile DTVand multicast channels. They also argue that given the economy and increased broadcast picture quality, some cable subs are cutting the cord to return to over-the-air TV, a point even some cable operators have conceded.