Genachowski targets TV spectrum for broadband


FCC Chairman called spectrum “the oxygen of mobile broadband service,” and said that an excellent source of this “oxygen” is contained in the swath of spectrum currently housing the broadcast television service. He’s proposing auctions, with participating television broadcasters sharing in the proceeds. NAB noted that broadcasting makes very efficient use of spectrum, and vowed to work with the FCC on its spectrum search.

Genachowski said that broadcast participation in such a program would be voluntary, and that television broadcasters would still be free to experiment with the offering of mobile services.

NAB’s Dennis Wharton said, “As a one-to-many transmission medium, broadcasters are ready to make the case that we are far and away the most efficient users of spectrum in today’s communications marketplace. We look forward to working with policymakers to help expand the roll-out of broadband without threatening the future of free and local television, mindful of the fact that local TV stations just returned more than a quarter of our spectrum following our transition to digital.”

Here are Genachowski’s key remarks during a presentation before the New America Foundation referring to television spectrum:

“One of the best ways for us to achieve the right balance in the supply and demand of spectrum is to establish market-based mechanisms that enable spectrum intended for the commercial marketplace to flow to the uses the market values most.

“The Broadband Plan will recommend one such mechanism.  It will propose a “Mobile Future Auction” — an auction permitting existing spectrum licensees, such as television broadcasters in spectrum-starved markets, to voluntarily relinquish spectrum in exchange for a share of auction proceeds, and allow spectrum sharing and other spectrum efficiency measures.

“Now, I’ve mentioned broadcast spectrum – so let me be clear: the recommendation is for a voluntary program.  While overwhelmingly — roughly 90% — of Americans receive their broadcast TV programming in most major markets through cable wires or satellite signals, there are still millions of Americans who receive TV through over-the-air antenna TV.  Broadcasters would be able to continue to serve their communities with free over-the-air local news, information, and entertainment; and they would be able to experiment mobile TV.

“The Mobile Future Auction would allow broadcasters to elect to participate in a mechanism that could save costs for broadcasters while also being a major part of the solution to one of our country’s most significant challenges.

“Why look at broadcast spectrum as a major part of our spectrum strategic planning?

“First, a broad range of analysts, companies and trade associations participating in our Broadband proceeding agree that a clear candidate for allocation is spectrum in the broadcast TV bands.

“They point to a massive amount of unlocked value in that spectrum, which has characteristics that make it particularly suitable for mobile broadband – one study suggests that as much as $50 billion in value could be unlocked if we adopted policies to convert some of the broadcast spectrum to mobile broadband.  This suggests that there are inefficiencies in the current allocation.

“A second reason is that the highly valuable spectrum currently allocated for broadcast television is not being used efficiently – indeed, much is not being used at all. About 300 megahertz of spectrum have been set aside for broadcast TV.  In markets with less than 1 million people, only 36 megahertz are typically used for broadcasting. In cities with more than 1 million people, on average about 100 megahertz are used.  Even in our very largest cities, at most only about 150 megahertz out of 300 megahertz are used.

“This is true even after the recent reallocation for digital television, which freed up some spectrum for mobile broadband.  New technologies allow – indeed, they require – new strategic planning to ensure the most efficient use of spectrum, a vital public resource, especially given our broadband needs.

“Because of the billions of dollars of unlocked value in broadcast spectrum, and because of the current inefficient spectrum allocation, the Mobile Future Auction is a win-win proposal: for broadcasters, who win more flexibility to pursue business models to serve their local communities; and for the public, which wins more innovation in mobile broadband services, continued free, over-the-air television, and the benefits of the proceeds of new and substantial auction revenues.

“One thing is clear.  It typically takes quite some time from the beginning to end of a Commission strategic spectrum reallocation process.  But the clock is ticking on our country’s mobile broadband leadership opportunity and our global competitiveness challenge, and we have to get started.”

RBR-TVBR observation: Internet based services have yet to show that they can remain effective in times of civic duress – the vast majority cannot be effective simply because they are nationally based and do not have a presence in any market other then wherever they happen to be headquartered. No medium has yet shown that it can fulfill broadcasting’s vital public interest role.