FCC should haunt cable spectrum squatters before targeting broadcasters


That’s the suggestion of Tim Doyle, made in a blog post at an SNL Kagan website. Doyle says that a consortium of cable companies led by Comcast, and including Cox and Time Warner, made a speculative spectrum buy and are now simply sitting on it.

Doyle wrote, “With all the hand-wringing over how the FCC might wrest spectrum from the broadcast industry, should the government look for spectrum squatters? Like, say, SpectrumCo, a Comcast Corp.-led group of cable companies that paid $2.4 billion for swaths of spectrum in 2006. Since then, many of those companies opted to invest in Clearwire Corp., and the SpectrumCo airwaves have been unused. It does not seem as if that will change soon, either.”

Doyle notes that SpectrumCo believes it is sitting on a valuable and appreciating asset and currently other fish to fry and apparently, plenty of time to decide exactly what it wishes to do with it.

He noted that the FCC is putting the pressure on broadcasters, and said it was hard to tell if it would take a similar tack against SpectrumCo., but suggested that scrutiny of the proposed Comcast/NBCU merger would be a good place to at least bring it up. “Comcast also could face questions on its intentions with the venture as part of its takeover of NBC Universal Inc.,” said Doyle. “Though the company’s spectrum position is fairly unrelated to the deal, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s focus on the issue might lead to some questions. In its latest Form 10-Q filing, Comcast valued its investments in Clearwire and SpectrumCo at $2.3 billion as of March 31, down from $2.34 billion at year-end 2009.”

RBR-TVBR observation: As we’ve noted before, we expect that no matter how noisy the process gets, any spectrum repurposing will likely happen only after a protracted, much-reviewed and probably much-litigated process. That includes numerous calls for a full spectrum inventory. You’d think the FCC would see an easier path to spectrum reclamation by avoiding active users such as broadcast television, the focusing on areas that are currently lying fallow.