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Spectrum Wars

Most television viewers aren’t aware of a rather huge battle that is going on Washington.  It’s one of those back page stories in the newspapers that we might glance at but really don’t read.  On one side sits the television broadcasters and on the other FCC.  Both are fighting on a portion of the wireless spectrum that is up for grabs.  The FCC’s new National Broadband Plan was introduced, shrinking the overall domestic spectrum by about 40%.  While the spectrum is mostly for cell phone use, there is about 300 MHz of spectrum that has been set aside for over-the-air broadcast.

I know what you’re saying, that most people don’t watch over-the-air broadcasts anymore.  But still, some part of the spectrum is better than none at all.  Besides, over-the-air is the magic F word…free.  Plus, who knows what type of technology might evolve in the next few years that could potentially utilize that part.  The FCC at last count says that only 10% of the population still watches over-the-air programming.  What’s even crazier is that only about 36 MHz of the spectrum is used in a typical broadcast for a market of less than a million viewers.  So that gives rise to a difference of over 250 MHz that is going unused.

Of course television broadcasters are far from thrilled about the implications.  It could mean a loss of channels for some, especially in remote areas and smaller markets.  It could also mean better cell phone coverage for some.  Even though it is only a 10% market share, companies can always use the extra market in order to gain a leg up on the competitors.  The FCC is offering incentive programs for voluntary recues of spectrum, but I’m sure that unless forced, companies will not give up what they think is theirs.

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