Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Plot to Destroy Terrestrial Broadcasting takes Shape

“…we should expect a linear relationship between costs imposed on broadcasters and the likelihood of them abandoning over-the-air broadcasting. Every dollar of additional costs for broadcasters is one less dollar of profit, and thus reduces the attractiveness of over-the-air broadcasting as a business model. And don’t forget the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: once broadcasting leaves the spectrum, much more valuable services can utilize those frequencies.” Thus spake Stuart Benjamin in early 2009 in “Roasting the Pig to Burn Down the House: A Modest Proposal”

Professor Stuart was hired by the FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski later that same year, he “joined the Commission in December 2009 as the agency’s first Distinguished Scholar in Residence. He resides in OSP (Office of Strategic Planning) and works on spectrum reform, First Amendment issues, and long-term strategy (emphasis added). He is on leave from Duke Law School, where he is the Douglas B. Maggs Professor of Law. He specializes in telecommunications law, the First Amendment, and administrative law.”

It appears the FCC is beginning to take action in keeping with the ideas of Professor Benjamin. On November 30 TVNewsCheck published an article “FCC begins TV Spectrum Revamp”. In the article Chairman Genachowski said, “The spectrum is too valuable and our spectrum needs too great for it to be used inefficiently in this manner, especially given that less than 10% of Americans receive broadcast television only through over-the-air spectrum signals.’’

So, the plan is to move more stations to the VHF band, a band by-the-way that has proved problematic after the digital transition. The idea is to have 2 stations share a single 6MHZ band while retaining their right to “must carry” on cable. This will free up the more desirable UHF band for wireless broadband. But it will also impose yet more cost by forcing some broadcasters to, yet again, buy VHF transmission equipment.

On December 2 TVNewsCheck published a story “FCC Plan Makes VHF a High Priority”. I’ll simply quote from the beginning and end of this piece.

“As part of its plan to shift 120 MHz of spectrum from TV broadcasting to wireless broadband, the FCC wants to pack TV stations more tightly together in the remaining 180 MHz of spectrum to free up some for auction.

To do that most efficiently, it must make the VHF portion of that remaining spectrum (chs. 2-13) more hospitable to broadcasting.”

The article goes into the issues with VHF, citing Television consulting experts who discuss some of the additional costs and reduction in performance broadcasting would experience going back to VHF, concluding with the following paragraphs.

“Since the digital transition, most stations are now broadcasting in the UHF band. Some of them are worried that in trying to improve the VHF band, the FCC is signaling that it intends to force some UHF stations back to the VHF band.”

“Among them is Dan Ullmer, chief engineer at WECT Wilmington, N.C., which made the leap from VHF to UHF in September 2008 when it because (sic) the first station in the nation to switch to all-digital service.”

‘“We have really good coverage along the coast now,” he said. “Going to VHF would be going backwards for us. We have built out all-new UHF facilities, UHF antennas. All that would have to be changed out. We'd have to enter another major transition in the market, which would likely disenfranchise our viewers. They've already been through a major transition here.”’

So, Professor Benjamin’s ideas are becoming manifest. There is no doubt where this is headed. They have made it very clear that the goal is to promote wireless broadband at the expense of terrestrial broadcasting. With the rulemaking vote of November 30, the process begins. It sets the stage for forcing broadcasters back to an inferior frequency band and having THEM pay for it, both of which make broadcasting less viable. Recall Professor Benjamin, “Every dollar of additional costs for broadcasters is one less dollar of profit, and thus reduces the attractiveness of over-the-air broadcasting as a business model.”