Sparring Over Spectrum

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Consumer electronics companies and brodcasters continue to trade blows over the issue of spectrum.

The latest punches come in the wake of broadcasters pitching a new reality show format: Spectrum Hoarders (OK, maybe not, but sounds like a winner to us).

Following a call from the National Association of Broadcasters for a congressional inquiry into cable and satellite companies who NAB said were warehousing spectrum, the Consumer Electronics Association, which has accused broadcasters of squatting on their spectrum, fired back.

“NAB is seeking to confuse the U.S. Congress by comparing businesses that have paid large amounts for thin slices of spectrum with broadcasters who did not pay for broad swathes of the most desirable spectrum and who are sitting on underused spectrum loaned to them by government,” said CEA President Gary Shapiro. “The fast growth in wireless video requires that we repurpose underused spectrum.”

Shapiro has long called for broadcasters to give up spectrum, arguing it is being used inefficiently and could be put to better use by wireless broadband providers. He has been fairly unstinting (or unfairly, as broadcasters see it) in his criticism of broadcasters.

National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton, fresh from a broadcaster conference during which NAB members are planning to lobby Congress for their spectrum, was ready with a retort. “CEA is clearly confused, ignoring the fact that every communications service received free spectrum prior to the mid-1990s, including wireless and broadband providers. The key difference between broadcasters and broadband providers is that television stations offer local news, entertainment, sports and life-saving weather warnings every day, at no cost to millions of viewers. We welcome CEA examples of broadband providers offering their services free of charge.”

Broadcasters are facing a tough battle for their frequencies in the face of the broadband deployment push, which recently got a shove from the White House’s National Wireless Plan. While the FCC has been pushing for incentive auction authority to compensate the broadcasters who give up spectrum, it has not yet gotten it. The FCC could mandate the move without payment, but broadcasters would fight that with everything they’ve got.