11 October 2000

In a speech yesterday in New York William Kennard, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, launched a stinging attack on TV networks for misusing government concessions on the digital spectrum.

Four years ago, broadcasters were given digital bandwidth for free, a move described by Kennard as “the biggest government giveaway since Peter Stuyvesant bought Manhattan from the Indians for $24”. In contrast, mobile phone companies pay high premiums for their bandwidth.

However, Kennard believes US networks have been slow in using the digital spectrum, in the knowledge that they do not have to give up their analogue spectrum until 85% of the USA receives digital broadcasts. He fears this “double dose of spectrum” will be “a broadcaster entitlement for the next 25 years”.

Kennard also charged that broadcasters had shirked their responsibilities to provide public-interest broadcasting in return for their free bandwidth.

The issue of bandwidth has grown increasingly important as scarce spectrum has pushed the US behind Europe and Asia in the development of wireless internet access through mobile phones.

Kennard, in a bid to spur networks to action, proposed a charge on analogue bandwidths from 2006, and asked Congress to ensure that all new TVs are digital broadcast-compatible within two years.

News source: Financial Times