Upsetting Someone’s Plan


Because the National Broadband Plan is so, well, broad, it has already become something of a sacred cow. Broadcasters, for example, had to join virtually everyone else in praising a plan that would result in the most activist FCC in history—churning out dozens of industry-remaking proposals for years to come—and one that will take, voluntarily or by force, at least a third of their spectrum.

And the FCC is eyeing spectrum auction revenue as a way it could pay for some of the adoption and education elements of the plan. Broadcasters’ 120 MHz of spectrum represents the largest chunk the commission wants back within the next five years.

Broadcasters’ public stance on these issues must be one of guarded conciliation. The broadband plan is about decreasing health-care bills by billions via remote health monitoring, and billions more through remote energy monitoring. It will, in theory, help save our kids’ backs by transforming tons of dead-tree texts into digitally delivered, instantly upgradable digital books. Nobody, including the parents represented on this page, will say this is not a good thing.

The plan is also about job training, and inclusion, and so many things that are important and incredibly promising that to challenge any part of it seems Luddite and protectionist. Christening broadband an “ecosystem” has made any criticism appear to be a bulldozer aimed at a giant redwood. However, it is not; it’s due diligence.

So, let’s get this out of the way. Like seemingly everybody else on the planet, we get that broadband is a revolution. But like other revolutions, there is the risk of an unchecked momentum, driven by euphoria and the interests of those most served by the change, that could result in collateral damage. At the pace at which technological change is racing, it is not only not obstructionist, but vital that we ask questions and challenge assumptions now.

Which is why the cautionary words from Commissioner Mignon Clyburn last week were striking and important. She could have joined the chorus of cheerleaders. Instead, she said: “While the Plan acknowledges the current public interest mandates and goals of broadcast spectrum, it does not contain a rigorous analysis of the practical implications of its proposed actions on the public interest.”

And this: “The Plan does not study the impact that a spectrum sell-off would have on women and minority-owned broadcast television stations.” And this: “[A] plan that would further decimate the prospects for women and minority owners is untenable.”

We agree. And until it is clearer just how this revolution is going to shake out, more people need to be able to raise those questions without being made to feel they are behind the wheel of that bulldozer.