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Spectrum Wars: The Hidden Battle 159

Posted by michael
from the pretty-soon-we-are-talking-about-real-money dept.
PacketMaster writes: "The USA Today is carrying an interesting commentary entitled All-but-secret battle rages over fate of airwaves. The article sheds light on some topics that many people are completely ignorant on - the fight over the broadcast spectrum. The most interesting tidbit is that the current broadcasters, who were given the new digital spectrum for applications like HDTV for free, now want to keep their old ones too and auction them off for industry profit to help pay for the transition to the new spectrum."
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Spectrum Wars: The Hidden Battle

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  • by gokubi (413425) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @04:46PM (#2257244) Homepage
    Gore Vidal, the great American essayist, novelist and playright said, "When you hear the word privitization, there is a burglar lurking."

  • Midair collisions (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Erasei (315737) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @04:47PM (#2257253) Homepage
    I think one of the problems we will start seeing before long is interference. With more and more people/devices crowding into a static amount of space (until more of the spectrum is released) it is bound to get a little bumpy. How long until your wireless network won't work when you sign on to your local wireless "last-mile" provider?
    • what im thinking is what of scanners? you know those radio looking things you get from radio shack? if military changes spectrum will my old scanner become illegal? But then all that crowding you might get some interesting cross talk...

      • The military is likely uncaring about your ability to monitor it's spectrum. You won't hear anything. 90% of military communications are encrypted, and what isn't setup with unidirectional antennas in a point to point configuration is spread spectrum, changing freqs many times a second. If they give the military the old analog TV bands, it'll be an excuse to modernise all this even more, and get rid of the small amount of legacy stuff that might be heard with a scanner. Military comms are about as secure as wireless gets.

    • by megalomang (217790) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @06:21PM (#2257664)
      The reason that the spectrum is partitioned off is precisely why we won't have interference. Each band is regulated and has either sufficient guard band so that the energy "leakage" into adjacent bands is minimal or simply has a prescribed permissable leakage that the adjacent band can tolerate.

      Digital communication is inherently immune to noise caused by several types of interference. Many channel encoding schemes exist precisely to deal with interference that is typical of the frequency range of the band, doppler effects, echoes, etc. Yes, there is a statistically small amount of bit error you will receive given a statistically small amount of noise energy present in the band, but there is no recent trend of rising noise energy in any given frequency band.

      So don't worry, your phone, tv, AM/FM radio, talkabout, bluetooth device, etc will not eventually stop working due to the noise level passing some magic threshold.

      For more info, look at the frequency allocation on the FCC web pages:
      http://www.ntia.doc.gov/osmhome/allochrt.pdf [doc.gov]

      • Sorry to tell yah, but we already do... When I use my cordless phone it cuts off my Wireless networking! I knew that this would be a problem when I got the access point, but if there was more spectrum available there might not have been this problem! This isn't type of interference that you were talking about but it still an annoyance!
        • Yeah, that's a good point. For example, when several devices are sharing the amateur 900MHz band, there can be a lot of information energy (as opposed to noise energy) spread over the same frequency band. Eventually, the signal to noise ratio will indeed creep up high enough to cause significant bit error that cannot be corrected in channel decode.

          The device will be able to tell you that the signal integrity is not good simply by comparing the number of bit errors that it is correcting to the maximum number of bit errors the particular encoding scheme can tolerate. The FCC prescribes a maximum power level for a signal, so at some point, a device will no longer be able to crank up the signal strength to compensate.

          You are right, I didn't think that's what the guy was talking about in general, but what you are saying is definitely a concern in these unlicensed bands. If you are a business or person that is relying on amateur band performance, well, that could be a problem.

      • Just saw a story last week in the Portland newspaper about cell phone interferance with emergency radio(police, ambulance, firefighters)
        such that in some areas, radios were useless.
        • I'd really like to see the link to this article. I'd be willing to bet that this rogue reporter who has a degree in journalism (i.e. not telecommunication) is completely speculating about the cause. Mobile phones have specific channels that are not reused for other forms of radio.

          On the other hand, there are GMRS and other 2-way radios that occupy 400-something MHz range that you might be confusing the issue with. For example I heard a while back that that there are 2-way Motorola radios at the store right now that require an FCC license to operate, but the average unlicenced users are buying these and abusing the airwaves so that the bands are becoming useless for emergency use.

          But this has nothing to do with interference but is more a case of overloading the band with users that have no idea what is going on. Emergency channels are to be used sparingly, but some clueless people use these channels to socialize. When used as the FCC intended, this wouldn't be a problem. If the FCC actually cared, they would have required that customers show a license before being able to purchase a product.

  • Digital Radio (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @04:50PM (#2257272)
    I think digital radio would be a logical first step before digital TV - there's tons of wasted spectrum b/c of the pathetically outdated mandatory distance frequencies.

    Fix the easy stuff first (or at least concurrently).
    • Re:Digital Radio (Score:5, Insightful)

      by John Miles (108215) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @05:13PM (#2257397) Homepage Journal
      It's not clear what you mean by "wasted spectrum," or what benefits you expect to come from reclaiming it.

      The entire AM broadcast band takes up the same bandwidth as one-fourth of a conventional TV channel. Like the entire MF/HF spectrum, it's completely useless for anything besides voice communication due to limited bandwidth and excessive noise.

      The entire FM broadcast band occupies the equivalent of 5 TV channels. Any attempt to monkey with the FM BC allocation will render hundreds of millions of home and car radios obsolete. If you think DTV is a political boondoggle that offers insufficient benefits to consumers, you wouldn't want to think about messing with FM.
      • Another problem with the AM and FM bands is that the only politically acceptable digital broadcasting system seems to be IBOC (in-band on-channel). This means that broadcasters would use their existing frequency allocations to broadcast an additional digital signal along with the analog signal. This keeps the power and money in the hands of the existing broadcasters and keeps out the riff-raff (i.e. you).
        • They have Digital Radio in Europe, the BBC has been broadcasting [bbc.co.uk] since 1995 in its final format, it's based round the DAB standard [worlddab.org], basically MPEG2 with COFDM encoding with the provision for datacasts or any type of data for that matter.

          It's totally abstracted from the old FM system and uses a new set of frequencies, Band-III which around 200-230mhz, this used to be used for the very old 405 B&W TV service that dates back to WW2.

          They shut of the service in the early eighties because it was clear absolutely everyone had moved onto colour/PAL. Then they started the 'Eureka 147' [eurekadab.org] project to develop Digital Radio.

          Unfortunately there isn't a whole lot of room left in the US spectrum to separately allocate bandwidth for digital radio, so Lucent have been developing IBOC, which resides as a FM subcarrier, so no need to allocate new frequencies. It works a little like the European RDS (Radio Data Services, station titles etc) except the performance is obviously better than RDS's 8bits/s (in fall fairness it is quite old). The problem is the standard at the moment is susceptible to multipath problems and can degrade the existing FM broadcasts, the standard also relies on the old FM analogue broadcast at times, which kind of defeats the object.

          However, if they get the problems sorted out and produce a reasonably cheap chipset it means you can have digital radio without new spectrum, a big plus! But Lucent could potentially be swimming against the tide since DAB has world-wide adoption [worlddab.org] and has been in use for a while (i.e. it's proven). I doubt the standard will reach very far internationally, but the US is obviously a big market in its own right.
      • Re:Digital Radio (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        The entire FM broadcast band occupies the equivalent of 5 TV channels. Any attempt to monkey with the FM BC allocation will render hundreds of millions of home and car radios obsolete.

        5 stations is about that number that gets broadcast in most areas - if we're intent on reclaiming the analog TV spectrum as valuable, then the same should be done with radio. I don't think I need to point out that the TVs are rendered obsolete under digital TV.

    • Re:Digital Radio (Score:4, Informative)

      by silicon_synapse (145470) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @05:25PM (#2257443)
      There are several providers of satellite radio. The target market is mostly high end cars. Two popular ones are Sirius Radio [siriusradio.com] and XM Radio [xmradio.com]. If I had the money, I'd love to give it a try. I believe they're subscription based, but it's probably well worth it. Has anyone here used such a service?
      • by dpilot (134227)
        Aren't they a subsidiary of Sirius Cybernetics?

        You know, the inventors of the talking doors...

        The first ones with their back against the wall when the revolution comes.
    • Now I understand why they call it a "Free Market System". Its because once you've got a ton of money, you get more for free.

  • How is it that the "rest of the world" will be able to have 3G wireless, but the US is running out of spectrum space? Are we really using that many more frequencies? Or are they just inefficiently allocated or something?

    It seems to me like the way things should work is that if a company doesn't use a frequency (or is only duplicating things available on other frequencies) for a certain amount of time, it should revert to the government for reassignment. After all, they don't "own" the frequencies like they do physical property - they're on loan from the government. Just my $.02...

    • Or are they just inefficiently allocated or something?

      You think?

      The rest of the world waits until the U.S. is finished making the mistakes that often come when a new technology is introduced. The problem is that once we realize we've made mistakes, our "solution" is to patch things up, not throw the whole thing out and start over. In the meantime, the rest of the world says, "Ok, the U.S. has invented this technology and discovered some of the problems. Now how can we implement it correctly?"

    • From what I heard frequency auctions in other countries cover the whole country. In the US a frequency is only for a small area. I'm not 100% sure about this.
    • Actually the amount of spectrum currently allocated to cellular is similar in the US to many other countries. One of the main reasons we do not see 3G yet is the expensive of overhauling infrastructure on a massive scale compared to many other countries, combined with an economic slowdown in the communications sector. US users have also been historically slower to adopt new features, so carriers are more cautious. Its the classic chicken and egg problem of new technology - industry needs users to spur revenue for 3G development, but users want widespread 3G technology before adopting.
    • It's TV (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The US gives a lot of spectrum to TV (and the military, but that's another story). So, Americans are behind in cell phone technology, but get to watch more TV channels (even without cable).Network Magazine [networkmagazine.com] has an interesting article about this.
  • Nothing a high altitude nuclear explosion won't fix :) Enough argument already ;) God knows 50 years from now we'll discover all the waves passing through our bodies gives us colon cancer or somthing.
    • God knows 50 years from now we'll discover all the waves passing through our bodies gives us colon cancer or somthing.

      Gee, you're just figuring this out?
      Statistically, this is easy to prove.

  • Unfortunately, International treaties seem to have remarkably short lives, around a certain GWB. It wouldn't surprise me, if his "resolution" to the problem was to deregulate radio transmissions entirely.
    • "deregulate radio transmissions entirely"

      Ok, so it was meant as a sarcastic commment, but within lies the solution to this problem. If we totally deregulate the airwaves except, we'd have problems for a while, but eventually it would FORCE efficient allocation of the spectrum, ala CDMA or other means, as the only way to reliably get a signal through the newly created mass of noise. It would be like throwing the creative force of the universe at the problem, and there would be many novel, and useful answers to fall out.

      Let's do it!

      --Mike--

      • If we totally deregulate the airwaves except, we'd have problems for a while, but eventually it would FORCE efficient allocation of the spectrum, ala CDMA or other means, as the only way to reliably get a signal through the newly created mass of noise

        • Select a frequency
        • Discharge a massive (multi GW) pulse on this frequency, burning out all receivers and causing massive feedback on transmitters.
        • turn on transmitter, receiver

  • If they would have payed for the new spectrum, My guess is they would have had an argument for auctionning the rest, but since they've got it for free, they've "saved" that extra investment (or tax), plus, knowing that in the end, it won't be a reason to lower the cost of the products they will sell using that spectrum, I'd say, leave the lower almost unused spectrum a bit more open for developpement for projects or org. that couldn't afford to pay a tax/license right for it (i.e. local or + wireless community internet access, school research projects).

    It's a bit like computers, it's not because a workstation is old and not useful for rendering in your graphics/video editing company, that it cannot do a nice web server (or anything else requiring less power) in an non-profit organisation.

    • Well the idea was, at least at one time, that the boradcasters were a "public trust". A broadcaster is required to perform certain functions for the public, (you have seen a PSA right?) in certain amounts. Many TV stations produce newscasts and provide programming, free for public consumption. The Airwaves are owned by the people. With the government auctioning that spectrum, it's basicly a tax. What representation was there to levy this tax? With broadcasters having given over 50 years of service to the public, we cannot seek a little funding to pay for new transmitters? They are really expensive ya' know. Especially for UHF transmitters and the power they require!

      If you haven't figured it out, I work for a broadcaster. While I do see the writing on the wall, that TV broadcasting will either go away or change drasticly, I still have an issue with the government auctioning off the spectrum that belongs to you and me.
  • The audacity of this idea is breathtaking. After Congress gave broadcasters public airwaves worth $70 billion -- or far more -- on the condition that they would return their analog spectrum to the public in a timely fashion, they now want to keep both, auction one off and pocket the proceeds!


    What were the conditions of returning "their analog spectrum to the public"? Did they forbid broadcasters from making a profit when they returned them to the public? Did they limit how the broadcasters could return them to the public?

    After my knee-jerk "how dare those bastards" reaction, I took time to think about it and I'm not so sure this is a problem.

    -jhon
    • The impression I got from the story is that in 2006 the broadcasters would have to quit broadcasting on the analog spectrum and return their licenses to the FCC. This would then allow the FCC to issue new licenses for broadcasting in the analog spectrum. I don't think it in any way meant they could hold a little public auction in front of their buildings saying "The bid for Channel 4 is up to $250,000, the bid for channel 5 is up to $270,000, and the bid for channel 61 is up to $73,000"
    • of the article (and others I've read) are that the broadcasters return the analog spectrum at no charge. They *did* recieve the digital spectrum for free after all. It seems quite clear that the government didn't intend to have to bid to get the spectrum back.
    • by Detritus (11846) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @05:14PM (#2257401) Homepage
      It isn't "their spectrum" in the first place. They hold licenses to broadcast in the public interest and convenience. The licenses are not a property right, they are a privilege that can be modified or terminated at any time. Sometimes they forget that.
      • Interesting, If you change references to Spectrum in the comment to Music we have the same essential argument that the RIAA is making about MP3s.

        I'm not saying they're right, but it is interesting.
        • Interesting, If you change references to Spectrum in the comment to Music we have the same essential argument that the RIAA is making about MP3s.

          Not really -- the radio spectrum is finite. There are only so many broadcasts that can happen at once.

          Music is infinitely reproducable. There is no limit to how many times it can be copied without degrading the original.

          No one is claiming intellectual property rights on the airwaves -- we're claiming physical property rights. We own the airwaves, and the government leases them out for fixed periods on our behalf.
          • "We own the airwaves, and the government leases them out for fixed periods on our behalf."

            Except that they aren't really leased (which is what they should do instead of auctioning spectrum off to private ownership *forever*). Broadcasters may pay certain fees to the FCC ( and fines if they screw up), but the FCC doesn't even begin to collect enough money to be self-supporting in their job of managing the airwaves on behalf of the public. A license to transmit is a license to print money.

      • This is the heart of the matter...The public airwaves are just that; a public resource, which has been bought and sold by large corporations.

        This is something Ralph Nader speaks about often, and I don't blame him. TV and mass media are the common ground that geographically distant people share with each other. Thats a great deal of power...

    • What were the conditions of returning "their analog spectrum to the public"? Did they forbid broadcasters from making a profit when they returned them to the public? Did they limit how the broadcasters could return them to the public?

      After my knee-jerk "how dare those bastards" reaction, I took time to think about it and I'm not so sure this is a problem.


      This is a problem. Think about it a little more. If they are auctioning off the old airwaves and make some cash off it, that means somebody (or some corporation) would be willing to pay for control of the old airwaves. That isn't quite "public" in my book. Public parks are for anyone who wants to stay there and enjoy themselves, owned lots of land that only certain people are allowed to use.
  • by eander315 (448340) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @04:56PM (#2257308)
    Maybe some reporter, somewhere, now will decide to focus his or her attention on a potential $200-billion rape of the American taxpayer.

    Aren't our elected officials supposed to at least TRY to protect their electorate from this kind of thing? $200 BILLION is a lot of money! I don't think we should have to rely on one or two reporters to stop a $200 BILLION theft. It would be nice if our elected officials would stop counting their kickbacks, bribes and lobbyist money and start doing their jobs.

    • Where are the politicians?

      Oh, they're off burying interns in shallow graves most of the time, apparently.
    • Aren't our elected officials supposed to at least TRY to protect their electorate from this kind of thing? $200 BILLION is a lot of money!

      $1.4 trillion is even more money [fdic.gov], and some politicians were involved in aiding and abetting that theft.

      It would be nice if our elected officials would stop counting their kickbacks, bribes and lobbyist money and start doing their jobs.

      What? Be actual representatives of the people in their districts? Stand up for justice? Do the right thing? Not when there's an electoral war chest to build!

      And now you begin to understand just how close to death democracy in North America truly is. Money isn't just a unit of trade; it's a measure of power. The more you have, the more powerful you are, the more influence you have over lawmakers (what? citizens? screw 'em; they don't buy me campaign ads and dinners). As for "campaign finance reform," only a complete and total overhaul of how elections are run could even begin to attack the root of the problem with government in the US, Canada, and other Western "democracies"; the position of lawmaker has become one of authority without responsibility, instead of servant with great responsibility.

      I wonder if the distance, real and political, between representatives and citizens has become so great as to make accountability meaningless, simply because the politician lives in a completely different world than the people who voted them into their positions. I wonder if politicians would make different decisions if they had to live with their effects on a daily basis, alongside the people who gave them that power and corresponding responsibility, instead of acting like first-graders and covering up their messes with spin and flat-out lies.

      --end rant--
  • 3G (slightly OT) (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Sawbones (176430)
    While the whole process is working out less than ideal, I'm pleased to see the government taking an active stance on bringing 3G to the states. I know there are a couple of GSM cel carriers here in the states now but they don't really have the same coverage as the old CDM and TDMA (I think those are the acronymns) systems that AT&T and such have. I'd love to have some of the whiz-bang new phones (or one of the more stylish [nokia-asia.com] australian models) but because the rest of the world operates on a different system I'm out of luck.

    Chalk it up to good intentions but (potentially) poor implementation I suppose.
    • According to a report [bbc.co.uk] at BBC News [bbc.co.uk], discussing the USA spectrum auctions:

      "Industry experts say the US licences are effectively 2.5G, rather than fully-blown 3G. They are known as broadband personal communications service (PCS) licences."
  • nice summary (Score:3, Insightful)

    by S. Allen (5756) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @04:58PM (#2257316)
    The public knows little about this; even some experts are unaware of the machinations. Not surprisingly, television has not covered it. But the consequences, for all of us, are staggering. Given the stakes, and the power of the players, it will get attention eventually ? but if past experience is any guide, only after the critical decisions have been made. Maybe some reporter, somewhere, now will decide to focus his or her attention on a potential $200-billion rape of the American taxpayer.

    The machinations on Capitol Hill are increasingly out of control. Of course the broadcasters will get their cake and eat it too (selling spectrum they were given for free) since they only have to funnel a small % of the proceeds to suddenly supportive senators.
    Let's dispense with the formalities and just post a large for-sale sign outside the capitol:

    laws and regulations starting in the low 500's. modern and convenient. spaciously appointed. no need to wait.

    • Of course the broadcasters will get their cake and eat it too (selling spectrum they were given for free) since they only have to funnel a small % of the proceeds to suddenly supportive senators.

      Why do people keep saying things like this? The broadcasters do not need to funnel a penny to supportive senators. The broadcasters can dictate who wins or loses an election.

      The broadcasters can decide if they will publish good news or bad news about a political candidate. Inflame 5% of the voters and the election will shift from one candidate to another. Congress knows this, and that is why they will do anything the broadcasters ask.

  • US problems (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jahjeremy (323931) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @04:59PM (#2257320)
    The most damning quote:
    After Congress gave broadcasters public airwaves worth $70 billion -- or far more -- on the condition that they would return their analog spectrum to the public in a timely fashion, they now want to keep both, auction one off and pocket the proceeds!
    Reeks of typical American corporate machinations.
    1) Get something for the government for free / dirt cheap.
    2) Go back on the contract / agreement.
    3) Make bucketloads of cash.
    4) Government (and taxpayers) suck it up
    With analog TV, digital TV, satellite TV, cellphones, emergency services, police and fire communications, etc., we have a serious shortage of spectrum.
    Rather than a a shortage of bandwidth, I think the true problem in the States is a lack of decent, informed, relatively unbiased regulation headed by the Fed and too many interested parties such as corporations with a lot of money and lawyers.
    • I have discussed this with technical people a lot, and the basic conclusion, to solve all problems, is the government should take back static location broadcasting (home, work, etc...), give every one a sattelite dish, and make up the money with sales for the left over spectrum. From here, broadcasters might be given permission to run on one channel accross a large area, like a country, and they can then put in low power re-broadcasting stations on this channel as they see fit. This works with radio too.

      There would also need to be a government body controlling broadcasting space on particular satellites.

      So, now we have 75% of the problem solved, but what about time zones? and local area broadcasts?

      Easy, satellite technology is at the point where they now can choose what you see when you point your dish at the satellite, depending where you are on the surface of the planet. I know that the current Australian Optus satellites split signals to an extreemly fine point, where you can watch one picture on one side of your house, and it changes to the other side of your house, and I belive that there are more than 10 regions like that around Australia.

      The only other problem I see if getting the signals up there if you have 10 regions on one satellite, each taking up 35mb/s of bandwidth, that's 350mb/s to get up there, and I believe that laser link technology has solved most of that already.


      On the other hand, this problem will go away within the next 50 years, there will be an invention that will open up communications bandwidth, I just don't think it will be using the electro-magnetic spectrum that we currently use.
  • HDTV is a disaster (Score:4, Insightful)

    by YIAAL (129110) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @04:59PM (#2257321) Homepage
    The whole HDTV plan is a disaster. No one is buying HDTV (and, reports to the contrary, I don't think it looks significantly better, so I don't think anyone will). You can't force people to buy it, and you can't deploy it when no one has it.

    It's a spectrum-hungry technology that no one really wants. Plus, it's a big selloff to companies that don't deserve the help.
    • by S. Allen (5756)
      True. HDTV is a complete disaster. But you're wrong about the quality. It is significantly better. You just have to lay down the bucks for decent hardware.

      Having said that, I just cancelled my DirecTV subscription. I originally got it because they promised HDTV programming. After 1 year, this turned out to be 1 channel (HBO) and an infernal demo loop of the same old shit every day. Solution: go down to Radio Shack and buy the biggest honking roof aerial antenna you can find.

      DirecTV -- you're a bunch of dicks. When I called about getting the SuperBowl in HDTV, they responded that they weren't carrying it due to lack of customer demand. What a crock! I stated that I was a customer and I demanded it. Oh, well. That's why they're in the toilet and bleeding customers and money.
      • Well, I work at a broadcast TV station in the 76th market. We haven't even bought a DTV transmitter yet. The big three networks are providing some programming in HD. I attended the NAB convention in `99. I got to see real High-Def and broadcast High-Def. I was actually impressed with the picture quality of ATSC. I didn't see a bunch of MPEG blocking that I've seen with the Direct Broadcast Satellite systems. Currently, with the ATSC system, they can squeeze 20Mbps out of the 6Mhz of bandwidth given. Check out the petitions and protests by Sinclair Broadcasting. They want a system that uses COFDM encoding. Apparently you have better multipath for mobile communications but it had a slower data rate, and requires more power to cover the same coverage area as an ATSC signal. From all accounts, (broadcast engineers, and people who have worked for them) Sinclair is a pretty F'ked up company. Did anyone see the Gary Condit interviews on TV from a TV station in Mr. Condit's district? It had "SBG- Sinclair Broadcast Group" all over it. The viewer doesn't know who the hell they are, why clutter the screen with it? Probably just a rouse the bring their stock price out of the gutter.
    • DTV != HDTV (Score:3, Informative)

      Digital Television != High Definition Television.

      Of course HDTV typically has a digital signal (some countries actually have tried analog high-def signals), but digital television just means using a digital signal instead of analog and that can include the contemporary TV format.

      Afterall digital cable companies and satelite providers already commonly transmit digital signals of contemporary sized and formatted television programs.

      The plan was to transmit over air TV signals digitally because it is a more efficient use of spectrum than analog and then retire the analog transmissions once there was sufficient penetration of TVs that could read and decode digital signals.

      Of course the companies would like to get everyone behind the higher res, wider, bandwidth hungry HDTV format and spew that all over the air waves as well or exclusively, but personally that seems more like a marketing gimmick than an especially useful technology. Even if digital broadcasting takes off, don't expect all the shows on the air to be HDTV formatted, at least not any time soon.
      • The plan was to transmit over air TV signals digitally because it is a more efficient use of spectrum than analog

        Or so they say. It's much easier to encrypt digital signals than analog signals, and now that we have a DMCA passed by voice vote (the old "the ayes have it" style of anonymous voting, which is recorded as an essentially unanimous vote), it's illegal to make a device that restores fair-use rights that the architecture takes away. Watch as all your VCRs become useless when the DTV receiver box outputs Macrovision garbage all over its analog output.

        and then retire the analog transmissions once there was sufficient penetration of TVs that could read and decode digital signals.

        If the federal government thinks this will happen by 2006, it has something coming.

      • (some countries actually have tried analog high-def signals)

        Yes, and said countries are still using such systems. Japan's MUSE standard [cf.ac.uk] is still in use, and probably will be for a while.


    • No one is buying HDTV (and, reports to the contrary, I don't think it looks significantly better, so I don't think anyone will).

      If it didn't look significantly better, it wasn't HD.
  • Real Privatization (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Arandir (19206) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @05:02PM (#2257341) Homepage Journal
    This quasi-privatization of the airwaves combines the worst of both worlds, with few, if any, of the best. All the worst of government regulation, and all the worst of business since they control a product which someone else owns.

    Let's have real privatization of the airwaves. Yes, their is a fixed amount of frequencies available, but the market works for other fixed resources, like real estate. Will there be some large players that will grab up large chunks of frequencies? Of course! But I would rather have half a dozen mega conglomerates competing with each other, than a single government agency accountable to no one at all. (and of course, government regulation has done nothing to hinder the current crop of megacorps, but plenty to keep the small independent off the market)

    How would it work in practice? Just take a look at the internet. Next to zero regulation, backbones that in many areas are fixed resources, heavy commercialization, yet there are unlimited opportunities for individuals, non-profits, and other noncommercial organizations.
    • by Geckoman (44653)
      How would it work in practice? Just take a look at the internet. Next to zero regulation, backbones that in many areas are fixed resources, heavy commercialization, yet there are unlimited opportunities for individuals, non-profits, and other noncommercial organizations.

      The difference here is that the Internet can grow. Anybody with enough capital can lay down another backbone. The simple act of dialing up with a modem essentially expands the network. Somebody with a CB talking to his buddy doesn't add an additional frequency, and now matter how much money a company has, they can't expand the electromagnetic spectrum.

      The real estate analogy is more apt, but it should be pointed out that the federal government owns massive amounts of land, especially in western states.

      • Okay, let's look at real estate. Other than the government, I don't see vast areas of the earth owned by single entities. San Fransisco is not owned by one large corporation. Berkeley is not owned by one large cooprerative. LA is not owned by some hollywood magnate.

        You may have large tracts here are there owned by one firm or another, but by and large, there are no monopolies or cartels on real estate (in the US at least).
    • "How would it work in practice? Just take a look at the internet. Next to zero regulation, backbones that in many areas are fixed resources, heavy commercialization, yet there are unlimited opportunities for individuals, non-profits, and other noncommercial organizations."

      This is a tempting, but ultimately deceptive and bad analogy. When I put up a website, I am not interefering with the ability of other people to view yours.

      If the airwaves were NOT regulated, then what is to stop me from broadcasting at the same frequency you are? If you start talking about protocols or laws, then you are sliding down the path to regulation.

      The analogy may be between domain-names and airwaves, in that you can't have two people having the same domain name, nor have two neighbors on the same frequency. But domain names are highly regulated, with more rules coming down all the time. (In the old days, if you were the first person to think of registering captainkirk.com, you would be able to have it without being sued.)

      Truly privatized airwaves would be a nightmare. Show me how there would be "unlimited opportunities for individuals and non-profits" without resorting to a dubious analogy. In a country where all the available frequencies are locked up by the half-dozen mega-conglomerates you grant would exist, how would I get my TV-show out there for people to see? And how do you know they would compete? No regulation means no anti-trust laws. Wouldn't they be better off cooperating with each other to screw the consumer?

      I have less faith in conglomerates than you do, I suppose. I tend to be more objective about things like that. Right now, if the situation with monopolies and the airwaves get intolerable, I have the ability to take them back - I still get a vote. If you advocate "privatizing" them, you are, in effect, advocating taking my vote away from me, leaving their fate to people that are not elected. The airwaves belong just as much to me as they do to anybody else; don't be so eager about taking away my property.
      • by Arandir (19206)
        If the airwaves were NOT regulated, then what is to stop me from broadcasting at the same frequency you are? If you start talking about protocols or laws, then you are sliding down the path to regulation.

        Privatizing the airwaves means that frequencies would be owned just like any other property. Without government regulation it will be harder to protect and defend these properties (just like the lack of trespass laws would make it harder to defend your home), but it can be done.

        In an anarcho-capitalist society (as an example), if everyone started broadcasting on whatever frequency seemed most convenient at the time, very shortly all of the broadcasters would agree on certain rules of the road, and enforce them through contracts. In an anarcho-socialist society (to take another example), individuals and companies could not own property, but syndicates and collectives would manage the unowned resources (they would "own" those resources in all but name) and they would make similar agreements with each other regarding the airwaves.

        The management of the airwaves is an old and settled topic on both the libertarian and socialist spectrum. Only those advocating mixed economies still consider it an insoluble problem.

        The airwaves belong just as much to me as they do to anybody else; don't be so eager about taking away my property.

        When a certain resource is limited, property is the most efficient means of allocating it. Even under pure socialist dogma, property will still exist in all but name. Consider other limited resources, like airspace. Private airports are every bit as efficient as public airports in managing the use of the airspace around them.

        Of course, the airwaves are much more complicated than other forms of property, even intellectual property. How can you own something that is everywhere? How can someone else be justified in owning broadcast rights for a frequency that anyone can receive anywhere? The problem is, the airwaves are still limited, and in order to be of use, someone has to control/own them, and odds are it won't be you. It might be the government (who still won't let you broacast on them despite the fact that they give lip service to the public being the actual owners), a corporation, a cooperative, a wealthy individual, etc.

        Sure you get a single vote with the government. But you also get multiple votes with commercial firms. With governments it's a winner-take-all election, but with business it's a share-the-pie arrangement. Piss off enough customers and see your market share erode. Please everyone in the world and you'll still have competition.
        • In an anarcho-capitalist society (as an example), if everyone started broadcasting on whatever frequency seemed most convenient at the time, very shortly all of the broadcasters would agree on certain rules of the road, and enforce them through contracts. In an anarcho-socialist society (to take another example), individuals and companies could not own property, but syndicates and collectives would manage the unowned resources (they would "own" those resources in all but name) and they would make similar agreements with each other regarding the airwaves.

          You are assuming that all involved parties want the bandwidth to be useful. What happens when a Ted Kaczinski type decides to put a stop to the brain-washing television stations; and starts broadcasting his own message across the entire spectrum? Are we to believe that he will confine himself to his own section of bandwidth on the condition that no one disrupt his message?

          What happens when 10,000 different people all want to broadcast at the same time? Are we going to work out contracts for all 10,000 of these people?

    • by Anonymous Coward
      >than a single government agency accountable
      >to no one at all.

      It is your government, and that agency is accountable to the American people, it is your civil service too. If the government isnt doing your bidding then take back your government and make it do what the American people want. Democracy is strong in this country and the US people are smart and active. Dont throw up your hands and route around them, they are there for you, remind the politicians continually that they are only there by your grace, and that they are there to represent your will and not theirs or the 1 dollar = 1 vote lobby. Take your government back, no need to be alienated, it is yours.

      mocom

  • by prisoner (133137)
    while it brings in alot of $$$ has always seemed somewhat shady to me. While this article isn't well balanced, it has always seemed like the users of that spectrum have been well-funded businesses and I get nervous when they get in too tight with the regulating agency. A breath-taking example of this coziness is that the NAB would have the balls to propose auctioning their old analog spectrum and keeping the money. And yes, I read the article and if you don't think they won't manage to stuff most of that money in their own pockets, you're crazy. I thought that by giving the networks free spectrum for HDTV (or whatever it may be called by now) the Gov't and, by extension, the people *were* speeding up the process and cutting broadcasters costs.....sheesh.
    • We're faced with a problem of a scarce but valuable resource. As usual the government and the corporations that control it are loudly contemplating how much money its worth, but everyone forgets that the government holds this spectrum in the public trust. The government remembers this occasionally, which is why there were minority clauses in the last spectrum auctions, allowing disadvantaged organizations to buy spectrum at a reduced price.. a dismal failure since it turned out small organizations didn't have enough money to build giant centralized systems using that spectrum.

      It turns out the idea that spectrum must be parcelled out to monopolies in order to avoid interferce is largely a lie. New technologies like spread spectrum make it possible to cram far more signals into the same spectrum and do so in a decentralized way. Take the unlicensed 2.4GHz band for example, this bit of free for all spectrum suffers from some interference, but at the same time wireless devices utilizing it (cordless phones, 802.11) are dirt cheap, and widely available.

      The best (for the public) way to parcel out 3G spectrum is to make it unlicensed, and force everyone one to the same playing field.

      • The reason these "free-for-all," unlicensed devices such as (cordless phones) work so well is simply because they are low-powered. For example, I was just reading [fcc.gov] that the FCC limits the power of CB radio transmitters to 4 Watts. Four Watts! Of course! That's why there's not much interference from other devices.

        This won't work at all for stations that are trying to broadcast over a 50 mile radius.

        Oh, and all those "unlicensed" bands are, in fact, licensed. Maybe not to you. I'm not sure how it works, but the FCC has to approve all the devices sold in the U.S.

  • I don't have a lot of experience with wireless communications. Thus far all I've used is radio, a wireless phone handset, and an emergency cell phone. In my daily life then interference has never caused any critical problems. Sure there is the occasional static on radio or what not, but the signal to noise ratio is generally quite good and a little corruption isn't that bad.

    My question to you then is how bad is interference now and has it been getting worse? When you are running wireless networks and systems where single bit errors can be serious, how well do the failsafes work? Can you give examples where interference was/is a persistent serious problem?

    Obviously if we keep expanding the spectrum and pumping more things into the air, there will be more interference. So right now are we doing pretty good that we can tolerate more interference, or are in the position of making a real problem much worse?

    PS While I respect radio astronomers, your problems are not typical. We may simply have to accept that what's useful to us is harmful to you and the overall utility might trump some methods of research.
    • PS While I respect radio astronomers, your problems are not typical. We may simply have to accept that what's useful to us is harmful to you and the overall utility might trump some methods of research.

      Take a look sometime. Radio astronomy allocations are miniscule. Last time I was at the VLA the problem was the Iridium was radiating out of band into the radio astronomy allocation, illegal practice and not neighbourly no matter whose spectrum you're smashing.

  • by trcooper (18794) <coop@red[ ].org ['out' in gap]> on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @05:12PM (#2257393) Homepage
    Which seems to be quite a few knee-jerk posters...

    The point of the article was that the broadcast industry wants to profit from the sale of the analog spectrum they agreed to return to the public in 2006. They were given the new spectrum, valued at over 70 billion, for free. So, they want to take our property, and sell it.

    In addition the current military spectrum is very much desired. The military would either like to keep it, or obtain the anaolog spectrum from broadcasters. Some folks in congress want to auction off the military spectrum, and the debate is whether the money goes to the military to help convert to another spectrum, or to other programs.

  • Well, of course the broadcasters are going to try to do this. Do the math, they only need to contribute 20 million or so of soft money to reap a 200 billion windfall. That's a 1000000% return on investment.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @05:18PM (#2257416)
    Eben Moglen (Prof. at Columbia Univ. and General Counsel for the FSF) was talking about the spectrum giveaway to TV broadcasters 4 years ago. See here [columbia.edu]. Interesting historical perspective.
  • My friend recorded over my copy of Rampage for the 48k, so I got into a fight with him. That was the best spectrum war I've ever had.
  • Why should broadcasters or other services be forced to pay more for spectrum allocation than it costs to administrate it?

    Just asking, this is not flamebait, but is offtopic.
  • by Sarcasmooo! (267601) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @05:45PM (#2257516)
    The digital spectrum, estimated to be worth $70 billion, was given away [issues2000.org] in 1996, to existing broadcasters. Prior to that, the spectrum was public property due to be auctioned off to broadcasters; after all, who but the public as a whole could be justified in having defacto ownership of something so widespread and intangible? Auctions like these created a balance of public interests, and offered opportunities to American businesses. By 'renting' this public property, business could flourish while operating under guidelines that ensured the public's airwaves would serve the public good. A plutocratic minority would love to tell you about how the evil government is censoring their broadcasts, but the truth is that airwaves that are won through these auctions are regulated by a 'public good' that is defined by public commentary to the FCC. These auctions are the ultimate example of free-market in a democracy, because the buck stops at the people.

    But with the Telecommunications Act of 1996 [issues2000.org], it was Trent Lott who prohibited the auctions, and forced the FCC to give licenses away. The act also prohibited consideration of anyone but the renewal applicant for the license, assuring that only the owners of the ill-gotten licenses would be keeping them, and I quote:
    `(4) COMPETITOR CONSIDERATION PROHIBITED- In making the
    determinations specified in paragraph (1) or (2), the
    Commission shall not consider whether the public interest,
    convenience, and necessity might be served by the grant of a
    license to a person other than the renewal applicant.'.


    You do the math.

    Deciding whether to side with the FCC or with Corporate America in this matter is easy. I live in a democracy; if I don't like the government I can run for office and change it. I don't like Carnivore, Echelon, the DMCA, and I would like to play a significant role in having the NSA and the CIA dissolved and opened to the scrutiny of the world. Why does it work this way when 90% of the country, left and right, libertarian and conservative, doesn't like it? Why can't I change the way this government works? It's because no one takes office without large corporate donors behind them, and no one campaigns without the millions of dollars needed to get themselves on corporate airwaves. The public would never know your name, and that would gaurantee you a sideline seat for the election debates that, by the way, happen to be corporate-sponsored as well. It's one big joke.
  • Ultra WideBand [key3media.com] looks promising for PDA/ Wireless data transfer, and with that kind of bandwidth you could shove quite alot of stuff including video.. Lets just do away with 'traditional' broadcasters - Its the future already.
  • Blind Jingoism? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    From the article: "We risk losing our leadership role."

    We can't loose something we don't have, Finland had the first commercial mobile networks, the first digital GSM networks and soon will be amongst the first UMTS networks, a few months after the same can be said for the rest of Europe.

    Let's not kid ourselves, they were ahead to start with and continue to be, American is great for many things but our mobile networks have always sucked. I'm not sure if it's even a matter of leapfrogging, the Europeans were installing digital GSM networks in the late 80's and early 90's whilst at the same time we were still deploying analog technology, of varying standards.

    This mess needs to be sorted out, this is a critical infrastructure like the highways (or slashdot), when you have former Eastern Block [nortelnetworks.com] countries with better cellular services than NY it's a disgrace. I'm a libertarian, but the free market has really failed us here.

    I'm sincerely disappointed with the state of things, and it only gets worse, the providers are too busy cramming yet more subscribers onto the overburdened networks instead of solving the core problems with the infrastructure. And the market isn't solving a thing, because the competition is doing exactly the same thing.
    • Have you ever put a GSM phone next to a monitor when it started broadcasting? These things interfeer with everything and do not play well with other equipment. There have been cases where GSM phones have caused gas pumps crash and keep pumping fuel. They cause problems in hostpitals with lots of equipment. GSM was designed so every little country in Europe could control their local phone comapines so you don't have a phone company in Germany providing service in France. The result is that the system is completely unsuable in low density areas. GSM phones are junk and they shouldn't be allowed to exist anywhere.
      • Re:Blind Jingoism? (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Hrm... well done, you have described the by-products of any electromagnetic device in history! As for your monitor, that's just general electromagnetic interference, you get it with anything of this nature, it was even worse with the old anolog phones because the transmission power was much higher. This is not unique to GSM by any means, or even ceullar phones for that matter. If I put my FM walkman on my 802.11b board I can hear interference, even though one is at 90mhz and the latter 2.4ghz. Move them apart and you're fine.
        "...was designed so every little country in Europe could control their local phone companies so you don't have a phone company in Germany providing service in France."
        That makes no sense, GSM networks were made to interoperate and overlap, the whole purpose is the ability just to pick your phone up and roam wherever you like in Europe and still be contactable via the same number regardless of location.

        I'm not sure what you mean by "local phone companies", the former state monopolies do not have a strong position in the mobile markets, you only have to look at the wrecks that are BT and Deutsche Telekom to see that. You have 'Orange' who provide services in UK, France, Germany, Spain then Vodaphone who operate in nearly every EU country (biggest mobile operator in the world, they also own Airtouch), T-Mobile who own One2One in the UK and another operator in Italy and Spain. There are many others. 'Little local monopolies' have nothing to do with it, and do not exist in the mobile market.

        GSM over 10 years old and still better than the services available in the US, and the Europeans are replacing it with UMTS.
        "There have been cases where GSM phones have caused gas pumps crash and keep pumping fuel."
        That's just bullshit frankly, however you see "do not use mobile's" signs on forecourts because static from the device and grounded equipment in the station could potentially cause a spark, its high theoretical and has never happened. The above is true of any mobile phone. Coincidentally, BMW recalled a small number of their cars last week because of concerns about static grounding through the fuel cap, again, theoretical risk.
        "They cause problems in hospitals with lots of equipment."
        Same goes for any mobile or electromagnetic device, they don't let them near equipment in hospitals because of the potential risks. The same goes for all phones, GSM or otherwise.
        "The result is that the system is completely unsuable in low density areas."
        The whole design was low density cells, just look at the topography of Europe and you will see you have clusters of highly populated areas.

        Nice FUD campaign, however it just comes across was sour grapes on your part. So Europe has a decent digital cell network, digital tv, digital radio etc, get over it.
  • ...who were NOT given a choice of whether or not they wanted to switch to the new digital spectrum.

    How else are they supposed to raise money to switch from analog to digital equipment? We are talking millions and billions of dollars of equipment that ALL broadcasters (large and small) have to switch to because the government said so.

    Since the government mandated that all stations must change from analog to digital before 2006 do you think that equipment manufacturers are gonna drop their prices before then? Very unlikely.

    So where does the money come from?

    Maybe the FCC could auction them off and give a cut of the sales to the broadcasters.
  • DTV != HDTV... however...

    who in the hell still watches basic over-the-air TV anymore? Most, if not all of my friends have cable or DirecTV. This means that the change in broadcasted TV from analog to digital is probably completely meaningless to most of America. Furthermore, where I live, Adelphia has set up digital cable service. And I absolutely hate it. The artifacting is horrible. The analog version of HBO looked 10x better than the digital version. I'm not *that* much of a videophile, but when I see globs of tiles instead of a clear black screen, I get slightly mift. From what I can tell, few care about that though. In the end the promise of more channels seems to be the draw to DTV. Are we going to see more broadcasted channels as a result of widespread HDTV use? Almost definitely not.

    At any rate, if people actually cared about higher definition TV, Sony Wega's would sell like hot-cakes. Are they?
    • According to these links, between 20% [people-press.org] and 25% [berkeley.edu] of American homes have neither cable or satellite.
      Of course of fair few of them are not going to watch over-the-air TV either.
    • ...is that it actually has a lower resolution than analog cable in order to cram in more stations. Cable companies claim the picture is clearer (which is true most of the time) but they won't tell you that they compress the signal so much that the resolution is worse than analog.

      Another reason why I'll never have digital cable!
  • The optimal money-making strategy for the Government would be to lease, rather than sell, spectrum. Auction off 5-year leases every 5 years. That would keep broadcasters on their toes.
  • Episode V: The Firewire Strikes Back

    Episode VI: Return of the Satellite

    Episode I: The FedEx Envelope

    Episode II: Attack of the Hayes Clones

    Episode III: Strings Between the Soup Cans

  • IIRC, a couple of years ago when Congress balanced the budget, they used a little bit of trickery. It seems that they took the amount of money to be gained in 2006 from spectrum auctions and applied it to the current budget in order to balance it, essentially borrowing against future income.

    Now what happens if the broadcasters keep the spectrum?
    • They'll probably have to balance their budgets some other way, probably by borrowing future money against something else... and so it goes until there's no more future to borrow money from :)
  • I seriously thought this article was about some geeks discovering that ZX81s could do something extremely useful in the 21st century and were planning to take over the world with them.
    Geek#1: My spectrum's running sendmail
    Geek#2: So what, I've got Exchange Server on mine
    Geek#3: My spectrum's rendering the Final Fantasy movie.
    Hmmm... maybe they're not that good!
    Still, with useable OSs getting as small as MenuetOS [slashdot.org], maybe Spectrum's could be used for up-to-date things. <flame-resistant-suit>if only it was more portable than x86 asm</flame-resistant-suit>

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