Bidders Poised For US and UK Analog Spectrum Sell-off

23 October 2007

NEW YORK: A battle of the airwaves is brewing between traditional telelvision broadcasters and online and telecoms giants as governments in the US and the UK prepare to auction off analog spectrum in the wake of digital switchovers.

American broadcasters are ostensibly fearful that a takeover of VHF and UHF signals for broadband use by online and wireless firms will result in interference to consumers' television reception.

A powerful alliance of Leslie Moonves (CBS), Jeff Zucker (NBC), Peter Chernin (NewsCorp) and Robert Iger (Disney) has written to Kevin Martin, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission complaining that TV viewers "have a right to expect their equipment will work".

The FCC will oversee the spectrum sell-off in time for the digital switchover at the beginning of 2009. Already jostling for position are the mighty Google and Microsoft - both eager to use freed-up frequencies to transmit video and other data wirelessly to PCs, mobile devices and TVs.

The National Association of Broadcasters is spearheading the campaign to prevent 'high tech' firms from gaining access to traditional broadcast spectrum.

In the UK, the analog switchoff has already begun and will roll-out region by TV region until completion in 2012.

Traditional broadcasters in the UK and the rest of Europe - suffering revenue slumps as advertisers and viewers migrate to the web - are unable to match the financial clout of online businesses that could outbid them in spectrum auctions.

The publicly-funded BBC and Britain's commercial giant ITV argue they will be left without enough spectrum to provide high definition TV services and without sufficient funds to fight their corner on the open market.

Media regulator Ofcom is less-than sympathetic to their cause. Says its ceo Ed Richards: "We have not been persuaded of the argument that the best way to maximize the social and economic benefit of the released spectrum is simply to gift some or all of the released spectrum to broadcasters."

Ofcom believes a sell-off is the best way forward and denies that this is simply a way for the government to make millions of pounds, as it did in the 3G telecom frenzy at the beginning of the decade.

Soothes Philip Rutnam, a partner in Ofcom's spectrum policy group: "We're not here to manage the spectrum in a way to raise revenue for the government. Our primary duty is to make sure spectrum is used in the best way for the country."

Data sourced from Adweek (USA); additional content by WARC staff
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