FCC spectrum hunters eyeing broadcast

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They’ve been thinking about white space wireless applications for some time. Now the FCC may be considering even more aggressive moves into the TV space. NAB points out there are plenty of other places to start.


A new study by the Brattle Group’s Coleman Bazelon, commissioned by the Consumer Electronics Association, estimates the value of TV channel spectrum right now, and looks at what it could be if repurposed, and concludes that it would be worth vastly more if it moves over to wireless broadband.

Bazelon produced some interesting numbers. He estimates the value of a television channel household to a licensee at $40.40; says there are 1.2M TCVHH worth about $48B; and if you add in noncoms, which he says hold nearly eqvuivalent value, the numbers to up to 1.5M TVCHH and $62B in total value.

He says for $9B-$12B, TV could be cleared out of the spectrum, moving to MVPDs in whole or in part. And if wireless broadband takes over, he estimates the value will shoot up to $500B-$1.2T.

CEA saw the study not as a conclusion but more of a starting point. “We are currently facing a crisis in wireless high-speed broadband availability,” said CEA president and CEO Gary Shapiro. “We encourage the Commission to immediately begin an inventory of spectrum usage. At the same time, it is important to begin developing a model for determining how to identify and reallocate spectrum.” CEA said that the study was “one approach to the type of analysis that should be considered by the FCC. The Commission should request further data to analyze and identify spectrum that may be reallocated for higher uses.”

Hence reports that FCC’s Blair Levin was talking with broadcasters about giving up a large swath of their over-the-air bandwidth in exchange for some form of compensation.

Media General CEO Marshall Morton addressed the issue at some length at the company’s recent quarterly conference call. He said, “We’re not in favor of it. Let’s face it, the government asked us to invest significantly in high definition and spectrum bandwidth was part of the deal there. So we’re all invested, and I’m talking about the industry, we’ve all invested significantly to do that. I don’t think his [Blair Levin] point of view has been completely thought out. I understand the need for efficient use of spectrum. I think we all are committed to doing that. But one of the ways we can justify to our shareholders – and us – committing the capital to do what we’ve done was that we were going to use the spectrum as a means of monetizing our content to new audiences in new packages. So it’s important that we be allowed to do that. He has brought this up. We have not had a chance to talk to him about it yet. I would say, and this is purely an opinion of mine, that the new chair, Julius Genachowski, is a new media guy, who understands new media capabilities and opportunities. And I think he is going to give a fair hearing to all points of view on this matter to make sure he doesn’t inadvertently slow down the development and expansion of opportunities on the spectrum.”

NAB and MSTV, in a joint FCC filing, noted that not only have television broadcasters recently freed up over 100 MHz of spectrum by going all digital, but also that there is are frequencies above 3.7 GHz have been allocated for a variety of wireless services, including broadband applications.

They remarked, “The multi-billion dollar investments by broadcast television stations, equipment manufacturers, the government and consumers have enabled the intensive use of each television station’s 6 MHz channel to deliver a variety of high definition and multicast programming, mobile DTV and other ancillary and supplemental services — all while freeing up more than 100 MHz of spectrum for wireless broadband and other new commercial and public safety uses.”

RBR-TVBR observation: This is not the kind of thing that will happen overnight, but the thought is now public, and it comes complete with a pricetag, and that is a very powerful combination. The heat is on, and it is only going to intensify.

Here is the key for broadcasters who want to hang on to spectrum.

The reason regulators have developed such a ravenous appetite for TV’s band is the fact that they see 85% of TV households subscribing to an MVPD. That looks a lot like waste to them.

But in times of emergency, MVPDs are often among the utilities that are lost, and getting them back into working order does not happen overnight and can at times drag on for weeks. The result is that when television is most needed, MVPDs are often MIA and 100% of all TV households rely on over-the-air reception.
Are the regulators thinking about getting critical information to citizens during a natural or man-made disaster? Right now, it looks like they’re seeing mostly computers and dollars signs.

Broadcasters need to emphasize the importance of this vital function, and should be gathering together their best emergency response stories, and be ready to add to them as this debate moves forward.