Levin: MPEG-4 Migration Should Be Spectrum Plan Broadcasters Can Get Behind

Broadcasters are willing to work with the FCC on a truly voluntary proposal
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FCC National Broadband Plan architect Blair Levin is
advising broadcasters to come up with a plan of their own for advancing their
spectrum future--he suggests a move to the more spectrally efficient MPEG-4
transmission standard--rather than digging in their heels on the FCC's spectrum
reclamtion/repacking proposal.

That advice will come in a Q&A between Levin and
financial analysts at the Credit Suisse conference in Miami
Tuesday, according to Levin, who previewed that point with B&C.

Levin, now with the Aspen Institute, plans to tell the
analysts that broadcasters "seem focused on their fear of incentive
auctions, which is odd as most businesses would regard new options for
monetizing an asset as a positive." Broadcasters have said they are
willing to work with the FCC on a truly voluntary proposal. But they are
increasingly arguing that the FCC's plan to move broadcasters who don't give up
spectrum into what they see as more cramped and less efficient spectrum
quarters in the VHF band doesn't sound like voluntary to them."

Levin suggests broadcasters should be looking toward a more
efficient transmission standard that could be a win-win for them and the
government goal of freeing up spectrum. "They seem to be ignoring a
critical question for their survival a decade from now: What is their future if
they don't have a path to evolve to MPEG 4?" he told B&C.

"And since MPEG 4 creates greater spectrum efficiency,
why are they not proposing an evolutionary path that solves their business
problem at the same time that it solves the government's concern for more
spectrum in the market?'

"Instead of just thinking in the negative, which is how
to stop something, they should be thinking in the positive, which is how to
create something," he says. The current M-PEG-2
standard does not accommodate 3-D. "If 3D really takes off, and it is
really great for sports, what does that do for the broadcast model if you don't
have MPEG-4."

Levin says that, since MPEG-4 is much more spectrally
efficient, "what should happen is, broadcasters should come in and say:
"Look, you guys want more spectrum, we need a path to evolve to MPEG-4,
let's bring these two rivers together through the MPEG-4 evolution," he
says. "If I were the broadcasters, instead of standing there and saying
'no' I would say, 'Hey, this is actually an opportunity.'

Levin says the new standard would "massively"
increase spectrum efficiency, from 19.4 to 30 or 40 million bits per second,
which is one of the reasons 3D would be possible.

Levin said he wasn't saying he knew more about the broadcast
industry than broadcasters, but that, as he looked at the business perspective
and policy perspective, "there is a very nice confluence, but I see no
activity by the broadcasters that recognize the value of that confluence."

The FCC's National Broadband Plan, which Levin oversaw,
proposed freeing up 120 mHz of spectrum from broadcasters' allocation to
auction for wireless broadband, which the Obama administration has also been
pushing as part of a national wireless initiative to make 4G service available
to 98% of Americans withing five years.

"There have been discussions about [the move to MPEG-4] said National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton, "but it would require swapping out every receiving device [as in TV set]. "That would be a daunting challenge for both broadcasters and our viewers," he said, pointing out that they just went through the transition to DTV, and new digital and HDTV sets, less than two years ago.

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