Fear of interference

DBS 'fights tooth and nail' to protect customers, investment

After reading Sophia Collier's Airtime column (June 11), it became crystal clear that Northpoint knows no bounds when it comes to confusing and clouding the issue of spectrum sharing in the direct broadcast satellite (DBS) band. Until now, Northpoint has primarily relied on exaggeration and half-truths, but it has advanced to issuing complete untruths.

Congress and the FCC have worked successfully for more than a decade to create competition to cable in the multichannel video marketplace. In just over seven years, nearly 16 million households have signed up for DBS service, and DBS has become what the FCC has called "the principal competitor to cable." Introducing an interference-causing Multichannel Video Distribution and Data Service (MVDDS) like Northpoint's into the DBS band at this critical competitive juncture, thus creating harmful interference to normal DBS operations, would be a total reversal of years of carefully thought-out FCC and congressional policies.

DBS' customer-service rankings are by far the best in the multichannel-TV industry—much higher than those of cable—in large part due to the unparalleled quality and reliability of the DBS signal. To jeopardize that quality to accommodate a secondary user, especially when there is spectrum already available for "wireless cable" systems functionally identical to Northpoint's, is unthinkable. Northpoint can operate its wireless cable service in those spectrum bands where it will not disrupt service to DBS customers, yet neither Northpoint nor the FCC has explained why those frequency bands would not provide the most suitable home for Northpoint's proposed service.

The congressionally mandated independent testing done by the Mitre Corp. is devastating to the proposal to allow terrestrial "wireless cable" to share the DBS band. The first conclusion of the Mitre Report is that Northpoint's proposed service would cause "significant interference" to normal DBS operations. Contrary to Northpoint's claims, the Mitre Report does not recommend a process for licensing MVDDS.

The Mitre Report states that sharing might be feasible "if and only if suitable mitigation measures are applied." These mitigation measures include visiting the homes of DBS customers and suggesting that they move their dishes from one spot to another, get larger satellite dishes, or cover their existing dishes with aluminum "shields." The report then asks whether the costs of mitigating, given the residual spectrum interference, outweigh the benefits. We believe the answer is a resounding "NO," especially considering the residual interference that will remain even after consumers apply such measures.

On the issue of spectrum auctions, the law requires an auction of spectrum for terrestrial operations where bidders can compete. Spectrum auctions are the best market-based mechanism for the allocation of scarce spectrum. More important, spectrum belongs to every American; it is no different from a national forest or a national park. Commercial entities cannot be permitted to simply walk away with this valuable national asset. Unfortunately, Northpoint seeks to do just that, choosing not to bid for the appropriate available spectrum but instead to claim entitlement to a multimillion-dollar gift from the American public.

In one of its most egregious claims to date, Northpoint states that, "on Jan. 1, 2002, DirecTV and EchoStar will likely drop local television stations in dozens of markets so that they can continue to deliver local stations in the most populated markets." Both DirecTV and EchoStar hope not to have to pull any local stations from markets they currently serve, and they do not have any such plans. In fact, both are launching spot-beam satellites to add more local channels to comply with the must-carry provision of the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act.

Contrary to Northpoint's claims, the DBS providers have not implemented a campaign to keep out competitors. However, we are fighting on behalf of our nearly 16 million current DBS households. We will continue to fight tooth and nail to protect our customers—and the multibillion-dollar investment we made in our businesses—from harmful interference.