CEA Sounds Off On Spectrum "Crisis"

Shapiro: "Writing is on the wall" for broadcast channels

The Consumer Electronics Association again weighed in Tuesday on the ongoing debate over how the U.S. should best use its wireless spectrum, as CEA president and CEO Gary Shapiro called the lack of available spectrum for new consumer devices a "national crisis" and recited findings of a CEA-backed study which estimates the broadcast spectrum could be worth some $60 to $100 billion if auctioned off for "creative purposes."

CEA drew the ire of broadcasters last month when it submitted the aforementioned study to the FCC, which has been taking a fresh look at spectrum allocation under new Chairman Julius Genachowski. CEA defended itself by saying that it was merely trying to encourage creative thinking about how wireless spectrum could be utilized, and wasn't directly supporting such a move by the FCC. But at a press event in New York previewing the upcoming CES show in Las Vegas this January, Shapiro again took a shot at broadcasters, noting that broadcasters' channels represented the "only spectrum out there that has not been paid for."

Shapiro said he will be discussing spectrum usage, as well as other hot policy topics like net neutrality, in a keynote one-on-one interview with Chairman Genachowski at the CES show on Friday, Jan. 8.

Some broadcasters have found CEA's spectrum study to be a figurative stab in the back in a year in which the broadcast industry has successfully completed a digital TV transition that helped sell millions of new HDTV sets for CEA members, as well as finalized a new standard for broadcasting DTV to mobile devices. When asked about the timing of the CEA study, Shapiro reiterated that CEA was not directly supporting a reclamation of broadcast channels by the FCC and defended CEA's actions as a simple byproduct of technological innovation amongst a diverse base of members.

"I learned a long time ago that no matter what we do, we're going to affect somebody else," he said. "But innovations in technology must move forward."

He also noted that while CEA has worked hand in hand with the broadcast industry on issues like DTV, it has also taken it to task in other areas. He said that despite occasional disagreements, CEA has always enjoyed a good relationship with the National Association of Broadcasters, and that he expected to have a good relationship with new NAB chief Gordon Smith.

But he seemed to forecast an eventual battle for broadcast channels, noting that the Obama administration is interested in the broadcast spectrum as a possible solution for wireless congestion as well as universal broadband access.

"We're not advocating that they take it away," said Shapiro. "But the writing is on the wall. The broadcast spectrum is something that government regulators will be looking at."