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Trade group sets off debate over spectrum 'hoarding'

The National Association of Broadcasters questions if carriers are using the spectrum they have

By , IDG News Service
March 18, 2011 01:47 PM ET

IDG News Service - The National Association of Broadcasters, asked by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission and some lawmakers to give up television spectrum for mobile data uses, has fired back by accusing several other companies of hoarding the spectrum they hold.

In recent weeks, the NAB has taken a new approach to its concern over a year-old FCC proposal that urges TV stations to voluntarily give up unused spectrum in exchange for a piece of the proceeds in a so-called incentive auction of that spectrum. NAB, an influential trade group, has gone on the offensive in recent weeks by suggesting that several spectrum holders, including Verizon Communications, AT&T and Time Warner Cable, have not developed the spectrum they already have.

"Maybe you should develop that spectrum before you come to broadcasters asking for 40 percent more of their spectrum," said Dennis Wharton, NAB's executive vice president for media relations. "Why is it taking so long, if there really is a national spectrum crisis?"

NAB members believe they've given up enough spectrum in the transition to digital TV resulting in the 700MHz auctions that ended in early 2008, Wharton said. "We gave at the office," he added.

NAB doesn't oppose voluntary auctions, but the spectrum crunch seems likely to be a problem only in major cities, Wharton said. TV stations have their own uses for the targeted spectrum, he added.

"We are using this spectrum to deliver the primary video signal that broadcasters delivered in the analog era, along with digital multicast channels that offer niche programming like weather channels, foreign-language channels, religious programming, kids' TV shows and even high school sports in some markets -- all for free," he said. "Spectrum will also be used to deliver live and local mobile digital TV to smartphones, laptops and the back seats of cars."

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, mobile trade group CTIA and individual mobile carriers have long argued there's a coming spectrum shortage, with data use on mobile devices skyrocketing. In its national broadband plan released a year ago, the FCC proposed to make 500MHz of spectrum available for mobile uses over the next decade, with 120MHz coming from the TV bands.

NAB's position strikes of "incongruity," given that broadcasters are sitting on spectrum that's used to deliver over-the-air TV signals, a service that's "dropping like a stone" in popularity, Jim Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president for external and legislative affairs, wrote in a blog post Friday.

"NAB ... insinuated the problem isn't their own massive warehousing and underuse of precious spectrum resources," he wrote. "Instead, the problem is everyone else."

Several other groups, including CTIA and the Consumer Electronics Association, have denounced the NAB's accusations as an effort to sidetrack the debate over spectrum needs.

The spectrum-hoarding complaints are a "desperate attempt by the broadcast industry to deflect attention from the looming national spectrum crisis," the two trade groups said in a letter to congressional leaders Thursday. "NAB has once again endeavored to search for any hint of outlier instances where spectrum allegedly is not being put to productive use -- a point that has been consistently refuted."

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