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A recent press release from the Consumer Electronics Association states that, “The most wanted gifts this holiday will be wirelessly connected products, fueling consumer demand for devices that need additional spectrum for wireless broadband.”


All well and good. But the release goes on to quote CEA’s vice-president for regulatory affairs, Julie Kearney, as saying, “The products consumers want most this holiday all require spectrum to deliver Internet content. Congress must pass legislation to free up much needed spectrum so consumers can use these innovative technologies without limitations this holiday.”


The release goes on to say, “The facts are overwhelming. Broadcasters are sitting on broad swaths of underutilized spectrum despite the demand for mobile connected devices surging, as this holiday season demonstrates.”


OK CEA, where’s the proof? Where is the comprehensive spectrum audit that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that TV broadcasters are ‘sitting on broad swaths of underutilized spectrum?’ Despite the fact that broadcasters have already given back UHF channels 51 – 83 over the past 30 years, to be re-purposed for other means?


Guess what? There isn’t any proof. In fact, the FCC still hasn’t released a comprehensive spectrum inventory to the public, even though several members of Congress have been asking for it for over a year.


Keep in mind that CEA holiday spending forecasts have been off the mark in recent years. Granted, there is strong demand for wireless devices. But we need to read between the covers here: Much of that connectivity is low-power, limited-range wireless, such as the new 5 GHz WHDI and 60 GHz wireless HDMI products.


Or, it’s 802.11n connectivity from printers, tablets, notebooks, and media players. Last time I checked, all of that gear operates in the 2.4 – 2.5 GHz and 5 GHz bands.


Wait – did CEA mean mobile phones? OK, why not re-purpose the 800 MHz band that was once used for analog cellular phones (remember those?)? There’s PLENTY of spectrum space up there that could be repurposed.


As recently as a year ago, the CEO of Verizon Wireless let on that his company wasn’t using all of the RF spectrum it had purchased for mobile phone service. And a recent press release from the FCC states that only 62% of all Americans who have access to broadband service have taken advantage of it, as I’ve reported in earlier columns.


The truth is; the federal government sits on more spectrum than anyone else.  And it would be a piece of cake to carve out 120 MHz of that spectrum for CTIA members, who are obviously behind this campaign to have the government ‘take away’ from TV stations and ‘give to’ the big telecoms, under the guise of spectrum auctions that are, in the CEA’s words, “…a win-win for consumers, broadcasters and the U.S. government. Consumers will get much needed and more reliable spectrum for their wireless devices, tens of thousands of new jobs will be created and billions of dollars will be raised to help cut the federal deficit.”


Ahhh…there are the classic catchphrases: “New jobs will be created…cut the federal deficit.” Classic Washington-speak. No one can back any of that up, of course, but it sounds good.


In this time of severe economic stress for the average American, I am amazed that the CEA would take a stance that is essentially hostile to middle-class Americans, and that is to encroach on their ability to enjoy free, over-the-air digital TV and HDTV broadcasts.


Just look at all of the cable TV companies who are seeing channel package subscribers jumping ship. Comcast, Cablevision, and Time Warner have seen over 300,000 channel subscriptions dropped in the 3rd quarter. Think those folks aren’t not watching TV anymore? Betcha some of them are now using antennas…


If the CEA and FCC have their way, everything above channel 31 would be taken away, forcing many TV stations off the air, due to a lack of available replacement TV channels (now, THERE’S a real spectrum crisis for you!). That would put a big crimp in the development of the new, emerging MH mobile digital TV service (also free, by the way).


Here’s an idea: Let’s not worry so much about Verizon and AT&T. They’ll be just fine; thank you. Instead, insist that the CEA re-direct their lobbying towards getting the FCC to release a full spectrum audit and inventory, and look at some of the government-held spectrum to be re-purposed for additional wireless uses.


If the FCC thinks that there is truly a spectrum crisis, then let Washington give up some of its hoarded megahertz to alleviate it. Cut out the middleman and let’s have another spectrum auction that doesn’t rob Peter to pay Paul…


Posted by Pete Putman, November 7, 2011 10:43 AM

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About Pete Putman

Peter Putman is the president of ROAM Consulting L.L.C. His company provides training, marketing communications, and product testing/development services to manufacturers, dealers, and end-users of displays, display interfaces, and related products.

Pete edits and publishes HDTVexpert.com, a Web blog focused on digital TV, HDTV, and display technologies. He is also a columnist for Pro AV magazine, the leading trade publication for commercial AV systems integrators.