Spectrum Legislation: Democracy Now!

Andrew Seybold, in a think piece posted on Fierce Wireless says it’s doubtful that the FCC could meet its five-year goal of freeing up 300 MHz of spectrum.

“It takes months to prepare for such an auction, then it takes a few years to relocate those already on the spectrum, first finding a place to move them and then to pay for the move out of the proceeds of the auction or perhaps require the successful bidders to move the incumbents. After all that is done, the auction winners must build out the spectrum and the device vendors must build smartphones and other devices that will work on the new spectrum. This entire process is likely to take another five years or more.

But it is not the FCC’s fault that these auctions are not already underway. The hold-up is that the auction authorization bill is sitting in Congress and is not moving. In the Senate, S.911 is the bill that authorizes the auctions and lists the spectrum that can be auctioned right away, and it sets the stage for incentive auctions of additional TV spectrum that is to be voluntarily given up by TV broadcasters in return for a portion of the auction proceeds.

In the House, a different bill was introduced and attached to the recent tax relief bill. The National Association of Broadcasters is lobbying hard against the incentive auction portion of the spectrum bill saying that commercial networks don’t need more spectrum.

It is my opinion that the educational efforts by the Public Safety Alliance, the network operators, and organizations such as the CTIA helped in the writing of S.911 and moving it out of committee with a large bipartisan majority.

In the House of Representatives however, the bill that was introduced was influenced more by the NAB and other organizations that oppose the incentive auctions.

How it will end is anyone’s guess. If logic were applied to the situation new spectrum would be made available quickly and public safety would be allocated its needed spectrum. But in Washington D.C. it is not logic that wins the day but rather those who have the clout to convince the staffers to convince their bosses how to vote on an issue.


Seybold has valid points. The NAB no longer is required to provide public interest programing. The small number of group owners that run local television stations get their spectrum free, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers.

That’s not fair. Broadcasters should pay for their spectrum – like everyone else.

As of 2010, The Walt Disney Company is the largest media conglomerate in the US, with News Corporation, Time Warner and Viacom ranking second, third and fourth respectively, according to Wikipedia.

Big media is inimical to Democracy. Local ownership, diverse voices, and truly competitive media markets serve the public interest. It’s the LAST thing the NAB wants.

There are basically two pieces to incentive auctions:

  1. Smaller broadcasters might vacate their dedicated channel and co-habitate on a digitial subchannel on a competitor’s channel.
  2. Currently unused television channels “white spaces” would be sold to the highest bidder (probably big telcos).

Negotiations between the House and Senate to resolve differences over spectrum bills stalled. The Senate bill (S.911) calls for a national governance model while the House (JOBS) bill relies on a regional model run by the states.

Walden’s FCC Process Reform Act would take power away from the FCC. Walden is unlikely to give the FCC free rein to conduct the auctions without strict guidelines. His JOBS bill, with the help of NAB, would eliminate unlicensed White Spaces.

Eliminating unlicensed White Spaces would seem to guarantee the multi-billion dollar the Universal Service Fee – a Big Government, Big Tax, Big Subsidy program if there ever was one – will continue to bail out rural telecom companies.

Unlicensed White Spaces – like WiFi – has the potential to save everyone money and lower government costs. Walden’s JOBS bill appears to serve (mostly) the NAB, not his conservative constituents, Grover Norquist, or public safety advocates.

Related Dailywireless articles include; White Space War, Bills to Kill Unlicensed White Space?, Public Safety Net Removed from Debt Ceiling Bill, The D-Block Gamble, D-Block Gets a Hearing, National Wireless Initiative, White House: D-Block to Police/Fire, State of the Spectrum, NTIA “Finds” 1.5 GHz of Federal Spectrum, National Wireless Initiative, White House: D-Block to Police/Fire, White Space War, White Space To Go, White Spaces Get IEEE Standard, Broadcasters: Portable Devices Kill DTV, Mud Fight in White Space.

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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