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Spectrum Fight: Mom Vs. Apple Pie

Broadcasters have been battling for their business lives over the past few months. Among other issues, incentive auction bills surfaced that did not meet broadcasters’ baseline expectations of signal integrity and market-coverage protections for whatever business remains after the government reclaims spectrum for wireless broadband.

The fact that the auctions are tied to raising money for a first-responder broadband network called for by the 9/11 commission sums up the lobbying challenge of broadcasters, who frankly face a broadband juggernaut of “national purposes,” as well as a Consumer Electronics Association campaign portraying them as squatters and dinosaurs.

They dodged a bullet earlier this month when one of those broadcast protection-lite bills was removed from the debt-ceiling bill. But there will still be a push in early September by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who has vowed to get a bill to the president by Sept. 11.

“This is the toughest challenge ever faced by broadcasters,” says one veteran broadcast attorney. “It is like choosing between Mom [broadcasting] and Apple Pie [all those ‘national purposes’],” said a broadcast lobbyist speaking not for attribution.

Here are some of the forces massed, not against broadcasting necessarily, but for more spectrum, and thus giving the FCC and Congress more cover for actions that could leave broadcasters in a tenuous position.

9/11: Part of the spectrum incentive auction proceeds will go toward paying for and maintaining a broadband emergency communications network. With the 10th anniversary of the tragedy coming up and its memories of firefighters unable to communicate with responders, broadcasters face the kind of passion that Rockefeller has shown for the issue. Rockefeller and Sen. Chuck Schumer (DN. Y.) have enlisted the aid of John Feal, the outspoken 9/11 responder advocate who helped push through a healthcare bill to help victims of rescue/recovery-related illnesses. At a press conference unveiling Feal as their new “pusher,” the pair also included a New York dispatcher who spoke of his frustration on 9/11 as he received calls for help he could not answer because communications were hit and miss at best.

Healthcare: Remote healthcare monitoring has been one of the FCC’s mantras. But it also has the advantage, at least for those promoting it, of potentially saving on healthcare costs, making it a fiscal reform conservatives like. Last month, the conservative think tank Institute for Policy Innovation moderated an event where an AT&T Healthcare Technologies exec and Anand K. Iyer, WellDoc president, talked about the “dwindling” supply of spectrum and the “innovative ways wireless connectivity is changing the face of health care and the spectrum challenges that could kill real healthcare reform in its tracks.”

Jobs, Jobs and More Jobs:
Mobile Future released a study at the beginning of this month asserting that “reassigning” spectrum to mobile broadband would create up to 500,000 jobs.

Add in energy monitoring and distance learning, and the fact that without ubiquitous broadband, discounts for online government transactions—renewing licenses, paying taxes— becomes a regressive tax on those without sufficient access and funds, and the momentum to roll over broadcasters on the way to that broadband future gets more difficult to counter.

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