Appointment of Stuart Benjamin as Distinguished Scholar in Residence Reinforces FCC’s Position on Spectrum Reallocation

As the battle over broadcast spectrum reallocation heats up, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski appointed Stuart Benjamin to be a Distringuished Scholar in Residence, TVNewsCheck reported last Thursday.

Mr. Benjamin’s appointment has already raised concerns among television broadcasters, largely due to a paper he published back in May. Entitled “Roasting the Pig to Burn Down the House: A Modest Proposal,” Mr. Benjamin, a professor at Duke University School of Law, examined current broadcast spectrum policies and concluded that regulation that would make broadcast television unprofitable may be in the best interest of the public considering other uses for the spectrum currently licensed to over-the-air television outlets.

In the paper’s abstract, he does admit that this proposal is “not entirely, but mostly”1 serious, but then continues,

“I do think that society would benefit if the wireless frequencies currently devoted to broadcast could be used for other services, and the first-best ways of achieving that goal may not be realistic. I am proposing a second-best – a fairly cynical second-best, but a second-best all the same. I would prefer not to go down this path, but if that is the only way to hasten the shriveling of television broadcasting’s spectrum usage, then it is probably a path worth taking.”2

Benjamin also asserts that, “One of the major impediments to greater spectrum liberalization is incumbents that likely are not the highest and best use of the wireless frequencies allocated to them.”3

As I wrote previously, and Mr. Benjamin identified months before me, broadcasters are vehemently opposed to relinquishing any of the spectrum they currently control. In his position as Distinguished Scholar, however, Stuart Benjamin may be able to exert his views on the matter more forcefully than broadcasters and their lobbies. That Chairman Genachowski appointed him to a position within the FCC alone demonstrates, at least to some degree, how strongly the Chairman feels about spectrum reallocation.

  1. Benjamin, Stuart Minor, “Roasting the Pig to Burn Down the House: A Modest Proposal,” Duke Public Law & Legal Theory Research Paper Series No. 251, May 2009.
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid.