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Spectrum Wars Heat Up

After the previous post on NAB and CTIA agreeing with each other on something, their spectrum battle over incentive auction is heating up again. Two new developments are New FCC Infographic - "Spec It Out!”, shown at right, and a “Revenue-Raising Broadband Plan” from The Coalition for Free TV and Broadband.

Although I agree with much of what is said in the Infographic, this is the most complex piece of graphic design I have ever seen at FCC and may be the triumph of form over substance. It appears to have been contracted for with an outside design house, Lab42, which states on its website:

Behind every great infographic is great data, which is where Lab42 excels. The infographics we create are powered by the data collected from our very own market research studies, meaning each of our infographics is unique. If you choose to work with Lab42, you can be sure that your one-of-a-kind infographic will be customized to meet your needs and the data behind it will be exclusively yours.

The Infographic starts with this statement:

S P E C T R U M is the public airwaves, which Americans use every day. Without spectrum, you can’t make cell phone calls, download digital textbooks, email on your smartphone, download an app to your tablet, use a remote control, or listen to the radio?

It then goes on to say:

Without additional spectrum EXPECT DELAYS more dropped calls & slower download

Under “What does spectrum matter” it states that there will be 771,000 jobs created by 2015, crediting a “study by Deloitte” that is not cited further either on the Infographic or the accompanying PN, so we can’t see what the assumptions were.

Readers may recall the following Ofcom chart, at left, that was shown here in July.

What the digital economy needs is not spectrum but capacity furnished in a cost-effective manner. Now new spectrum for the CMRS crowd may well be part of the solution, but it is not necessarily the whole solution. The above chart points out that spectrum, technology, and topology (infrastructure) are all contributors to capacity. The CMRS crowd has a single minded focus on the spectrum issue and the new Infographic seems to have the FCC following hook line and sinker. The FCC’s apparent indifference to wireless innovation, as shown by the 4+ years it fussed with AWS-3 without even reaching a conclusion on the technical issues and its inaction on its own Wireless Innovation NOI will probably guarantee that capital formation for such wireless innovation in this country will dry up so the CMRS crowd can focus on equipment designed in Europe and manufactured in China.

The Coalition For Free TV and Broadband is “a group of television broadcasters, concerned organizations, and individual citizens and has formed to ensure the survival of free television and to offer solutions to the nation for better, cheaper wireless broadband utilizing the broadcast industry.” Although Sinclair Broadcasting does not appear to be a member of this group, its executives are clearly speaking in favor of it. In the past Sinclair has been critical of the ATSC VSB technology for DTV and favored the European-like OFDM alternative.

White details of the Coalition proposal are somewhat vague, they describe it as follows:

With regulatory changes that would be trivial to implement, broadcasters could deliver a substantial and perpetual revenue stream to help offset budget deficits while alleviating the most significant cause of mobile broadband congestion. The driving factor of the looming spectrum crisis is the rapid growth in use of mobile video services. Projections of a spectrum shortage assume that all mobile video will be provided on a “point-to-point” basis: more than half of all mobile data traffic is expected to be video services. Today, if 100,000 people watch a football game, wireless carriers must provide 100,000 separate streams. The same game provided by a broadcast architecture would require only one stream – every user can access the same stream. The spectrum efficiency gains of broadcast for video delivery, as compared to individual streams on wireless networks, are vast.

If broadcasters are permitted to enhance their technology to seamlessly integrate with mobile devices, vast amounts of mobile data demand can be offloaded from the wireless networks. And the revenue generated from ancillary data services can generate far greater receipts to the Treasury than a one-time auction.

Of course, the claimed efficiency depends critically on whether people want to use their cell phones to watch real time programming simultaneously or want to watch video on demand. The Coalition proposal has some similarity to the late Qualcomm MediaFLO system that was a commercial failure.
The Coalition gives the following advantages for their plan:

If embraced by Congress and the FCC, the Coalition Plan would:

•Avert a spectrum shortage by providing a vastly more efficient way to deliver the bandwidth-intensive broadband traffic

•Lead to lower prices for mobile broadband data while improving service quality

•Eliminate the need for incentive auctions, protecting Americans who rely on full power and low power broadcast television from loss of service.

•Provide more than $60 billion in new revenue to the U.S. Treasury in the first fifteen years, far more than the projected net proceeds from incentive auctions.

•Provide a perpetual revenue stream that could be worth as much as $216 billion to the U.S. Treasury.

I can not find a public statement by CTIA on this plan although Broadcasting & Cable found an NAB quote merely saying ”it is studying the Coalition proposal, which offers interesting ideas worth reviewing.”


A Tweet from CTIA announces “Study confirms spectrum crunch for wireless” and points to this report from the Global Information Industry Center at the University of California, San Diego. But in in line with the Ofcom report on the 3 building blocks of wireless capacity, the cited report also points out:

Enable deployment of supporting infrastructure.

Mobile services require towers and other support structures for antennas, lines and microwave dishes to “backhaul” the traffic from the cell site to the central network and switches, power, and secure locations for the equipment. Installing these facilities requires permits, construction and community support. The more we consume wireless data, the higher the number of cell sites will be needed to increase the capacity and improve reliability. If we want to continue to have access to reliable wireless services, we must be willing to support this construction. This needs to be an explicit choice made by the community.

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