Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins has a new column up this morning about the ongoing battle over broadcast television spectrum reallocation. [“The Rabbit-Ear Wars.”] It discusses the plan being floated by FCC “broadband czar” Blair Levin, who serves as the Executive Director of the Omnibus Broadband Initiative at the Federal Communications Commission. Levin has raised the possibility of reallocating a portion of broadcast television spectrum for alternative purposes, namely, mobile broadband. Such a “cash-for-spectrum” swap would give mobile broadband providers to spectrum they need to roll out next generation wireless broadband networks while making sure broadcaster receive compensation for any spectrum they hand over. The FCC just recently released a public notice on “Data Sought on Users of Spectrum,” (NBP Public Notice # 26) that looks into the matter. “This inquiry,” the agency says,” takes into account the value that the United States puts on free, over-the-air television, while also exploring market-based mechanisms for television broadcasters to contribute to the broadband effort any spectrum in excess of that which they need to meet their public interest obligations and remain financially viable.”
Holman Jenkins argues that the issue is incredibly contentious and likely to engender a great deal of political wrangling. “The spectrum puzzle won’t be solved by the clean and simple deal the agency envisioned,” he says. That’s true, but I think the FCC still deserve some credit for at least starting the discussion. As my PFF colleague Barbara Esbin and I noted in our recent paper, “An Offer They Can’t Refuse: Spectrum Reallocation That Can Benefit Consumers, Broadcasters & the Mobile Broadband Sector,” [PDF], it’s hard to see what is wrong with letting broadcasters hear offers of cash for their spectrum! That being said, they should have their hands forced (to give up the spectrum, that is). I think Jenkins generally gets it right when he says:
The FCC is looking in the right direction, but we need more than just a “market solution” to liberate spectrum from the current government-approved incumbents. We need a market that can fully explore the potential of all the business models that might contest to find the highest and best use of that resource.
Incidentally,PFF recently hosted an outstanding panel discussion on this issue featuring some of the very best and brightest minds in the field. You can listen to the entire event here and we will be releasing the transcript in the next couple of days.
You might also be interested in this essay I wrote recently, “The Wireless Bandwidth Crunch: Where Will We Find More Spectrum?”