FCC is Judge and Jury in US TV Spectrum Skirmish

19 August 2008

WASHINGTON, DC: As revered US president Abraham Lincoln reputedly observed: "You can please all of the people some of the time; and some of the people all of the time; but you can't please all of the people all of the time."

Although he wasn't referring to the Federal Communications Commission's plan to convert unused TV channel spectrum to cheap, high-speed wireless internet networks, Abe's aphorism is as apposite today as it ever was.

Despite eight months of testing, the FCC's scheme still faces determined opposition and an uncertain future.

Opines chairman Kevin J Martin: "Spectrum is very valuable and we want to make sure it's being used as efficiently as possible. The idea of trying to utilize the 'white spaces' from a consumer perspective would be a good win for everyone."

There are, of course, mixed views, depending on where the vested interests lie.

"I like to think of it as Wi-Fi on steroids," enthused Google co-founder Larry Page to FCC lawyers, congressional staff and lobbyists in June. "It would make a huge difference for everybody."

But the broadcasters, in dog-in-the-manger mode, are eager to hang onto their unused spectrum.

"Given the fact that there's been a series of failures (in testing) at the FCC it doesn't give us a lot of comfort," complains an unenthused National Association of Broadcasters spokesman.

Four electronic gizmos designed to identify which TV channels are in use have been submitted for FCC testing. So far, FCC engineers' lips are zipped as to their findings.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff