Everything You Need to Know About the Fight for TV Spectrum

Source: GigaOm
Coverage Type: analysis
Washington, DC, United States

A $33 billion fight is brewing — or maybe it’s only a $27.8 billion fight, depending on whose numbers we use.

The fight is nothing short of an entertainment battle royale, with TV on one side and the iPhone on the other. Actually, mobile phones, tablets and any other device we want to connect to the cellular network are on the iPhone side, but in a battle royale, it helps to have one protagonist and one antagonist. The issue is who will have access to the 133 MHz of spectrum currently used by broadcasters to deliver TV programming, and how that transfer of airwaves will take place if the broadcast industry can't stop Congress and the Federal Communications Commission from its spectrum land grab. It’s a contentious issue over a wonky subject, and so like all debates that require some technical knowledge, both sides are flat-out misleading people. So here are five questions (and answers) about this issue, for those who want to separate the truth from the spin.

  1. What’s the Issue Again? The wireless industry has become a victim of its own success, and now people can't make calls. The industry argues it needs more spectrum to handle increased mobile traffic.
  2. Are We Really Running out of Spectrum? Short answer: No.
  3. Who Owns This Spectrum Anyway? Technically -- you do... well, the US government does. It granted broadcasters access to use this spectrum because it viewed broadcasting as a public good and theoretically could take it away at any point in time, but that’s not going to happen since broadcasters have built out a huge industry that many Americans still rely on for their entertainment and news.
  4. What Is an Incentive Auction? The Federal Communications Commission's attempt to offer broadcasters a peace offering: basically an auction whereby the broadcasters who give up spectrum will get to share in the proceeds of the auction.
  5. Won't This Take PBS Stations for Rural Viewers so People in Cities Can Play Angry Birds? Spectrum is geographically constrained. So having a lot of spectrum in New York means New York broadcasters will have to give up their airwaves, not the folks in Rochester. [Not that anyone's calling Rochester rural... Oh, Rochester... ]



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