Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg says he thinks the FCC should
not try to get spectrum back from broadcasters, that there won't be the kind of
spectrum shortage the FCC's national broadband plan predicts, and that
market forces and technology should take care of whatever shortage there is,
likely driven by the rise in online video.
"Confiscating the spectrum and repurposing it for other
things, I'm not sure I buy into the idea that that's a good thing to do,"
he said this week. The commission has made spectrum reclamation part of that
plan in order to free it up for wireless companies like, well, Verizon to
provide wireless broadband and handle all those new bandwidth hungry apps.
The commission sees wireless as a major player in universal broadband service."
Seidenberg's observation came during an interview this week
with Wall Street Journal Deputy
Managing Editor Alan Murray for think tank, the Council
on Foreign Relations, and an audience that included a number of financial
advisors and investors.
Asked by an audience member how he thought the FCC's effort
to get broadcasters to give up 120MHz of spectrum would shake out, he said the
answer would probably come as a surprise.
"If I took the self-serving approach," he said,
"it would be: 'Okay, screw the broadcasters. Let's get their spectrum and
we can put it to use in our wireless and cellular business or broadband
business.'" But he said his reaction was, instead, that the FCC should let
the marketplace work it out without intervention. "I don't think the FCC
should tinker with this," he said. "I think the market's going to
settle this. So in the long term, if we can't show that we have applications
and services to utilize that spectrum better than the broadcasters, then the
broadcasters will keep the spectrum."
Seidenberg suggested that maybe the FCC was looking in the
wrong place, anyway. "Cable companies have bought spectrum over the last
10 or 15 years that's been lying fallow," he said. "So, here the FCC
is out running around looking for new sources of spectrum, and we've got
probably 150 megahertz of spectrum sitting out there that people own that
aren't being built on. I don't get that. This annoys me."
Seidenberg wasn't saying there might not be a spectrum
shortage, but that he thought technology would likely solve the problem.
"I think what you need is you need to allow natural forces to drive
capital to where they're naturally going to work. So Sprint and Clearwire are
building a 4G network. We're building a 4G network. AT&T's going to build one.
"If video takes off, could we have a spectrum shortage
in five or seven years? Could be, but I think that technology will tend to
solve these issues. And I happen to think that we'll advance fast enough that
some of the broadcasters will probably think, let me cash out and let me go do
something different. I think the market will settle it. So I don't think
we'll have a spectrum shortage the way this document suggests we will."
The FCC has framed the proposal as a voluntary one,
targeting mostly urban markets with numerous stations, but it has not made
clear what it would do if broadcasters did not give up the requisite 120 MHz
within five years, suggesting it had other methods. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.)
week asked the FCC commissioners for an answer to the question of whether
those methods would also be voluntary.