More sparring over auction of television spectrum


The White House has suggested that the auctioning off of spectrum currently in the hands of television broadcasters could generate as much as $27B. Organizations aligned with the wireless industry are suggesting that the estimate may be on the conservative side, and the NAB is saying everything is cool with broadcasters as long as broadcaster participation is truly voluntary.

The White House estimate came to light as part of the documentation that came with its proposed FY 2012 budget.

NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith commented on that portion of the budget, indicating that broadcasters were not opposed to the initiative so long as there is no coercion aimed their way. “NAB has no quarrel with incentive auctions that are truly voluntary,” he said. “We will oppose government-mandated digital TV service degradations that would result in a loss of service for the tens of millions of viewers who watch free and local broadcasting every day. NAB also opposes new spectrum taxes that could imperil promises made to consumers during the DTV transition.”

In a white paper submitted to the FCC, the CEA and CTIA suggest that a auction of spectrum voluntarily returned for resale by broadcasters could generate as much as $33B in revenue for the government, based on the results of similar auctions in the recent past.

According to a Hillicon Valley report, CEA’s Gary Shapiro is making the case. He said, “The spectrum crisis is real and must be addressed to ensure that our innovation-driven economy can recover and thrive. Additional spectrum for licensed and unlicensed wireless broadband is crucial to our national competitiveness. A voluntary incentive auction will create jobs, enhance innovation, provide the government resources to reduce the national debt, and give broadcasters a windfall of billions of dollars for spectrum they don’t own.”

NAB reiterated its lack of opposition to the auction concept while expressing deep skepticism toward the wireless white paper. NAB EVP Dennis Wharton said, “It’s hard to take seriously an analysis of broadcast spectrum values done by parties with a vested interest in forcing scores of broadcasters out of business. It’s noteworthy that CTIA and CEA cavalierly suggest eliminating ‘smaller stations in larger markets,’ which translates into fewer niche broadcast stations that serve important immigrant communities and religious audiences. NAB does not oppose spectrum auctions that are truly voluntary, and we look forward to an informed dialogue in coming months on the enduring value of free and local television for all Americans.”

RBR-TVBR observation: We wonder just what kind of juice auction proponents think they can inject into this project to get it on a truly fast track. Washington hasn’t yet resolved the media ownership issues that were raised in the Fall of 2002 under FCC Chairman Michael Powell.

Just for starters, look at Shapiro’s comment about spectrum-relinquishing broadcasters enjoying a windfall of cash in return for selling spectrum they don’t actually own. Does anybody really believe something like that will sail through Congress on a voice vote, and then survive the inevitable court challenge?

Numerous reports show that both cable and wireless companies are already sitting on spectrum. FCC should be encouraging them to use it, and it should also be conducting a full spectrum inventory in earnest. It will be a lot easier to develop fallow spectrum than go through a complex and controversial process of trying to ease out incumbents who, we might add, are using their spectrum to good effect in the public interest.