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Spectrum Wars: The Hidden Battle 159

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?
  • 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digital radio would be a logical first step before digital TV - there's tons of wasted spectrum b/c of the pathetically outdated mandatory distance frequencies.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).
  • by Jhon ( 241832 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @04:55PM (#2257302) Homepage Journal
    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Sunken Kursk ( 518450 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @05:04PM (#2257355) Homepage
    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"
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • by Sarcasmooo! ( 267601 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @05:45PM (#2257516)
    The digital spectrum, estimated to be worth $70 billion, was given away [] 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 [], 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:
    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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @05:57PM (#2257577)
    As long as the military has a use for the airwaves, they will have priority on any frequency they require.

    It hasn't happened since 1945, but if a declared war breaks out (WW2 was the last one officially declared by Congress), all non-essential civilian use of radio frequencies will end. Basically, that means broadcasting and public safety services would remain, while all other uses (ham, cellular, wireless services, CB, etc.) would have to quit operating. No danger of that happening anytime soon.
  • by Geckoman ( 44653 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @06:12PM (#2257626)
    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.

  • Blind Jingoism? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @06:23PM (#2257667)
    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 [] 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.
  • by Arandir ( 19206 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @07:38PM (#2257846) Homepage Journal
    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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @11:00PM (#2258377)
    >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.


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