CTIA: Public's Interest Is In Getting Back Broadcast Channels

Industry group favors reallocating spectrum

The wireless industry says it agrees with broadcasters that the FCC should keep the public interest in mind when it decides "how the broadcast television spectrum should be allocated," but says that would "clearly favor reallocation of broadcast television spectrum for commercial mobile wireless broadband users."

That came in reply comments to the FCC, which is collecting input on how to get more spectrum for wireless broadband. CTIA says the FCC should not just reallocate any spectrum, but "the right" spectrum. And it made clear that includes broadcasters' spectrum.

The National Association of Broadcasters, the Association for Multiple Service Television and a host of broadcast groups have weighed in defending their turf as an efficient use of spectrum in service to the public's interest in free over-the-air TV for news, public affairs, emergency information, high-definition, mobile TV and more.

But CTIA: The Wireless Association, argues that broadcasters aren't efficient spectrum users, that broadcast spectrum is uniquely suited to mobile wireless broadband, and that there are no suitable alternatives to broadcasters' real estate.

The group said the FCC should consider immediately reclaiming broadcast channels in markets where they are unused. CTIA also said the FCC should move quickly to eject wireless microphones from the broadcast band.

The FCC has to come up with a plan by February for ubiquitous broadband deployment, and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has made it clear he thinks wireless broadband will be a key to that effort and that more spectrum is needed to handle bandwidth-hungry applications for a host of things including healthcare and education as well as entertainment. The industry wants at least another 800 MHz's worth.

CTIA asked the FCC to carefully consider a study from economist Coleman Bazelon and submitted by the Consumer Electronics Association that concludes that "huge economic gains [Bazelon pegged them at a staggering $1 trillion] could be enjoyed by broadcasters, wireless service providers, and consumers alike if the broadcast spectrum was reallocated for commercial wireless use."

Broadcasters have countered that the figure is wildly inflated, and that, in any event, any reckoning of broadcasters' value goes far beyond dollars and cents.

Not so fast, says CTIA. "[T]he shareholders who own commercial television broadcasters expect a return on their investment that goes beyond solely acting in the ‘public interest,' said the group."In fact, recent media reports make clear that broadcasters must hold on to unused and underutilized spectrum only to profit from mobile TV and multicasting - not to ensure the public receives free over the air programming. Moreover, as discussed in the Consumer Electronics Association's Bazelon Study, "the over-the-air portion of broadcasting is becoming less economically relevant to broadcasters."

Bazelon's argument for the waning economic impact of broadcast spectrum is based on the fact that most viewers (around 85%) aren't getting their TV station programming over the air but via a multichannel video service, including cable, satellite, telco TV, or via the Internet.