In Interview with Broadcasting & Cable, FCC’s Levin Attempts to Calm Broadcasters’ Fears of Spectrum Grab

Given the controversy that has arisen since the FCC first announced its desire to reclaim broadcast spectrum from over-the-air television broadcasters, it comes as no surprise that the agency’s broadband pointman recently attempted to quell broadcasters’ fears. Blair Levin’s interview with Broadcasting & Cable came roughly two weeks after FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski appointed a controversial Distinguished Scholar in Residence who advocates imposing burdensome regulations on television broadcasters that would imperil their viability.

In his interview, Mr. Levin noted that while “he does not think any of the commission’s plans for spectrum reclamation ‘threatens [sic] the future of over-the-air broadcasting…’, he also [said] that broadcasters [sic] own actions and revenue streams do not support retaining all of their spectrum all of the time.” His statement is likely of little comfort to the organizations threatened by spectrum reallocation considering the expense they incurred in the digital transition and their hopes for revitalization through mobile DTV and multichannel digital broadcasts.

As the FCC originally proposed in October, broadcasters would forego over-the-air high-definition (HD) broadcasts and the spectrum needed to offer additional digital services, instead reverting to a single standard-definition (SD) broadcast channel. In return, the broadcasters would receive a portion of the proceeds garnered from subsequent auctions of the relinquished spectrum.

Until the FCC releases its official plan, which is due to Congress by February 17, 2010, the rhetoric surrounding this issue is likely only to intensify, and I suspect no quantity of interviews and appeasing statements from the Commission will settle broadcasters’ worries.

The idiom, “Actions speak louder than words,” certainly holds true in this controversial debate.

Has the Internet Gone from Luxury to Commodity?

As a decade of significant change draws to a close, has the internet moved from luxury to commodity?

I would argue that the internet is a necessary part of everyday life, be it as a communication tool and social medium, news source, or even a method for seeking employment. Nowadays, it seems there is little that doesn’t have a home on the internet, from the local soup kitchen to the PTA to one’s financial institutions.

As more information becomes available exclusively online and countries move to eliminate non-electronic payment methods, internet access will become as necessary to everyday life as reliable electricity and telephone service.

Perhaps this reasoning is, at least in part, behind the FCC’s push to expand broadband access nationwide.

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.

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FCC Prepares for Next Battle Before Current Fight is Settled

Just as the FCC moved its most recent and controversial initiative to the public-comment phase, the agency began what will likely be an even more contentious process to reallocate the nation’s broadcast spectrum. With the goal of providing more spectrum for broadband internet services, the Commission proposed that television broadcasters relinquish a portion of the frequencies they control in exchange for a share of the proceeds the FCC would receive when it auctioned of the spectrum. Considering the expense broadcasters incurred preparing for this past summer’s digital television transition, the organizations were understandably resistant to the proposal. Further complicating the proposal, it is unclear how much spectrum the FCC is seeking.

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One Step Closer To Net Neutrality

On Thursday, the FCC approved its net neutrality rules, giving way to 60 days of comments from the public, after which the Commission will release final regulations. Given the intense opposition from companies such as AT&T, the rules will likely face legal challenges before taking effect, and Congress could intervene as well. Progress is progress though.

FCC Asks Broadcasters for Spectrum Back, But Only After Encouraging Digital Transition

Yesterday’s report that the FCC recently asked broadcasters to return a portion of their spectrum is curious because of its timing. Coming just four months after broadcasters switched to exclusively transmitting a digital signal, the request begs the question, “Why did the FCC wait until after broadcasters had invested in the digital transition?” As TVNewsCheck reported, in exchange for returning two-thirds of the present television broadcast spectrum, current licensees would receive a portion of the auction proceeds collected when the FCC re-licensed the spectrum. If, however, the FCC were truly serious about repurposing the current television spectrum, the Commission’s offer would have come before broadcasters committed to digital broadcasting.

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In Ongoing Net Neutrality Battle, Internet Providers Consider Metered Connections

As the FCC prepares regulations to ensure unfettered access to the internet, AT&T and Time Warner are weighing the possibility of charging customers based on their usage, as in the days of dial-up access. The providers contend that if the FCC limits their ability to control the traffic on their networks, they will have no choice but to meter their customers’ access. Already, some broadband carriers are experimenting with metered access, while others have imposed extremely high limits that affect only a minority of users. After having unfettered access for many years, however, either option currently being explored could cause consumers to reduce their use of online services. Largely for psychological reasons, users may avoid data-intensive services for fear of exceeding their allowance, even if the allowance is so high as to not pose a problem. Some may argue that metered access will stifle the growth of the internet, but its widespread use makes that unlikely. Instead, it seems that metered access will become little more than a negotiating point in the FCC’s deliberations on net neutrality. After all, as The Wall Street Journal reports, the amount of data consumed by the average internet user would cost $20 under AT&T’s plan.

Approval of Mobile TV Standard A Positive Sign for Digital Broadcasting

Earlier this year, much ado was made over the transition from analog to digital broadcasting. So controversial was the switchover that Congress delayed the transition from February until June to give consumers more time to upgrade their equipment. Among the myriad benefits touted by proponents of the switch was the promise of new services and added content. While few of the promises have been met, the recent approval of a standard for mobile television is a step in the right direction.

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FCC Chairman Seeks Stronger Protections for Open Internet and Network Stability

Julius Genachowski, the recently-appointed chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, has moved to ensure that all legal content has equal access to the internet, a decision that has angered some major technology companies while at the same time being hailed by consumer advocates. As The Wall Street Journal reports, the Chairman’s proposal, which is making its way through the agency in draft form, would shift the focus of so-called “net-neutrality” rules from protecting consumer rights to limiting what actions internet service providers can take with regard to content carried on their networks. Presently, the FCC has only policies to guide internet providers regarding net neutrality, but no formal rules have been established. The Chairman’s move to formalize net-neutrality rules comes after Congress repeatedly failed to address the issue and just as AT&T alleges that Google Voice violates the current guidelines.

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