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As for spectrum allocation? . . . Let’s get crazy

Opinion
Jul 12, 20043 mins
BroadbandCellular NetworksGovernment

Last week I noted that the FCC is considering allocating unused television spectrum to broadband wireless services. Time for some out-of-the-box ideas: What if the FCC decided to re-allocate all the available spectrum – including commercial television and radio – to broadband services (with the exception of police, fire and emergency channels)?

Crazy? Maybe. But maybe not.

Here’s why it would make sense:

1.) It would promote broadband local access alternatives. As I said last week, additional broadband wireless spectrum could dislodge the RBOCs’ death grip on local access. By dedicating some spectrum to companies that intend to use it for wireless voice and data services, the FCC could accelerate their development. And to protect against the RBOCs buying up and mothballing spectrum, the FCC could require companies bidding for spectrum not to offer alternate facilities-based local access.

2.) It would accelerate the use of the Internet as a delivery mechanism for broadcast entertainment. Just because broadcast TV and radio as we know it would end doesn’t mean we’d lose the shows and songs we love. Instead, they’d be delivered over the ‘Net – as many are now.

3.) It would drive the recording industry and other content providers to rethink their business models. XM satellite radio, cable TV and pay-per-view all demonstrate working models for user-paid content delivery. Instead of suing consumers for downloading material, content providers would have to devise ways to make paying for downloads painless.

4.) It would get the FCC out of the business of regulating free speech. One of the beauties of XM satellite radio and pay-per-view TV is that you get what you pay for – and only that, whether it’s cutting-edge violence and buxom beauties, or G-rated language and family oriented stories. XM satellite radio offers a range of Christian music – and shock jock Howard Stern has considered quitting commercial radio for XM. Both can coexist because consumers can choose what they’d prefer to receive.

The downsides? Many U.S. households can’t afford Internet or cable access. They’d lose the “free” TV and radio they’ve become accustomed to. But those services aren’t free – the government has taken something that belongs to all of us (wireless spectrum) and given it to only some of us (broadcast companies). The fix? Levy a tax on wireless spectrum users and use it to fund very low-income households who otherwise couldn’t afford access. Meanwhile, all consumers would have access to a plethora of new services delivered more efficiently across that same spectrum.

Another concern is the effect on the advertising industry, which now spends billions crafting elaborate sales pitches. While it’s hard to feel the same sympathy for a laid-off Madison Avenue ad exec as for an unemployed telephone line worker in Dallas, suddenly shutting down a major part of the economy can be wrenching. The solution? Don’t do it suddenly. Do it in stages – giving the industry time to adjust.

Yep, the scheme sounds crazy – maybe crazy like a fox.