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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Free the DTV Spectrum!
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Former FCC Media Bureau Chief Ken Ferree once said of broadcasters and the spectrum they're supposed to release after the DTV transition that "they'd rather eat their children than give up this spectrum." Well, for the sake of all of those little tykes I hope Ferree's prediction doesn't come true, because the pressure is rising to free up that spectrum.

The High Tech DTV Coalition, launched today, is urging an early, hard deadline for release of the 700 MHz band spectrum. Executive Director Janice Obuchowski and her colleagues wrote leaders on Capitol Hill Tuesday arguing this point:

Certainty will allow the U.S. high-tech industry to secure the investment and develop the business plans required to deploy wireless broadband services in the 700 MHz band. This, in turn, will bring greater inter-modal competition among providers of multiple types of network technology, accelerating broadband build-out and lowering consumer prices.

Our own Tom Lenard has worked extensively on this issue, and considers this one of the critical spectrum issues facing policymakers today. He testified last year on the issue before some of the very lawmakers being pitched by this new coalition.

While Tom is the expert on this subject, I feel comfortable saying that I agree wholeheartedly that this spectrum can create another broadband "pipe" into the home, particularly if commercial providers are able to acquire licenses in that spectrum at auction. I'm a big fan of the amazing things being done with unlicensed spectrum -- I have Wi-Fi in my own home -- but if I were a venture capitalist I'd be hesitant to invest in a nationwide broadband network that was required under FCC Part 15 rules to accept interference from every cordless phone and garage door opener.

The coalition includes a mix of software, hardware and service providers -- Alcatel, Aloha Partners, AT&T, Dell, Cisco Systems, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, Information Technology Industry Council, National Association of Manufactureres, National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, Rural Telecommunications Group, Business Software Alliance, Semiconductor Industry Association -- and while I would anticipate disagreements on how spectrum should be used among those groups once it's freed, I clearly see why they'd work together on this issue. (They tell me they don't have a web site yet, but if you want their press release or letters to the Hill e-mail me.)

My one big disappointment is that the group failed to pick a date when they'd like the spectrum returned. They ask that legislation be passed this year setting an "early date-certain," but whose to say that Congress won't decide "early" means 2010? Maybe they couldn't get agreement on this point among all those parties, or maybe it was decided it was smarter to leave the date-setting to Congress. But surely the lobbyists involved in this debate know what can go wrong when such decisions are left to lawmakers? Better to give them a proposed date and then pressure them to lock it in.

Congress just needs to make sure it adds a child-protection amendment to the bill, prohibiting the consumption of children by their broadcaster parents.

posted by Patrick Ross @ 3:23 PM | Digital TV , Wireless

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