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  • Patrick McFadden 11:56 am on March 30, 2020 Permalink  

    Dead Giveaway: A Massive Spectrum Handout in the 6 GHz Band Based On Remarkably Little Usage of Existing Wi-Fi Spectrum 

    Multi-hundred billion-dollar companies like Facebook and Google are asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to provide free access to a stunning 1,200 megahertz of spectrum that includes the entire 6 GHz band. To put that amount of spectrum in context, that’s over 17 times the amount of spectrum sold during the broadcast spectrum incentive auction and more than four times the amount of spectrum scheduled to be auctioned in the C-band later this year. Indeed, this 1,200 megahertz giveaway would be one of the largest swaths of spectrum ever made available at one time. And Facebook, its tech company brethren and their newfound cable partners want it for free.

    Facebook’s justification for this massive handout is that the airwaves these Silicon Valley companies rely on today for Wi-Fi, including the 5 GHz band and the 2.4 GHz band, are overcrowded. But are they?

    Let’s take a look at what Facebook and its many friends say about current Wi-Fi usage in the 5 GHz band. After a thorough review of half a million access points, a Broadcom-sponsored study found that Wi-Fi users are using less than 7 percent of the available spectrum during peak usage 99 percent of the time. It gets worse: less than 1 percent of spectrum is being used 90 percent of the time.


    Why on earth would Broadcom concede this remarkable fact? Simple. They’re playing a tricky game of three-band monte. They want to hype up the demand for Wi-Fi by saying other bands are overcrowded but at the same time try to placate 6 GHz incumbents about fears of future interference by downplaying their 5 GHz use. Either the other bands available for Wi-Fi use are severely underutilized and the FCC should abandon the proposed giveaway of the entire 6 GHz band, or those bands are in fact heavily used and incumbents should be extraordinarily concerned about the potential for harmful interference.That doesn’t exactly paint a picture of a spectrum emergency. Contrary to their claim of “ever-increasing congestion in currently-available unlicensed spectrum,” these companies admit that a huge swath of the airwaves available to them right now is, in fact, drastically underutilized.

    It’s more than a little tough to swallow giving away 1,200 megahertz worth of mid-band spectrum to cable companies, Google and Facebook right after we spent two and a half years trying to free up mid-band spectrum in the C-band to avoid “losing the race to 5G.” But it’s impossible to do so when they’ve admitted that a good chunk of their current spectrum sits unused the vast majority of the time.

    Rather than proceed with this unprecedented giveaway, the FCC should proceed purposefully but cautiously. First, the Commission could take a huge win and make the lower 500 MHz of the 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use now. That still represents a tremendous amount of spectrum for Wi-Fi. Second, issue a further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking exploring whether additional Wi-Fi spectrum is actually necessary, how to protect incumbent users including broadcast and public safety mobile users and whether other options for the band should be considered. Once the horse has left the spectrum barn, it’s very hard to get those megahertz back. And after all, according to Broadcom’s own data, we’re not exactly in a hurry.

  • NAB 9:15 am on September 24, 2019 Permalink  

    AT&T’s Misleading STELAR Campaign Does a Disservice 

    The below op-ed by NAB President and CEO Gordon H. Smith appeared in Broadcasting & Cable September 23.

    Nearly 30 years ago, Congress passed a bill representing a temporary fix to copyright law to boost competition to the cable industry. The bill — now known as STELAR — provided for a “distant signal license” that allowed fledgling satellite TV companies to deliver ABC, CBS and NBC programming to households unserved by local TV stations.

    This legislation was never intended to be permanent — indeed, Congress set the bill to sunset after five years. However, because of lagging efforts by the satellite industry to carry local TV stations in all 210 television markets, Congress has continued to renew the distant signal license.

    Now, with the latest iteration of this bill set to expire at the end of the year, AT&T-owned DirecTV has launched a misleading on-air campaign warning viewers they are “at risk of losing your TV channels” unless the legislation is renewed by Congress. Viewers, including those in unaffected areas such as the Washington, D.C., market, have reported turning on their DirecTV systems and being “auto-tuned” to a screen directing them to contact Congress in support of STELAR’s renewal.

    These scare-tactic messages appearing on the TV screens of DirecTV customers are disingenuous at best and deceptive at worst. The truth is there is no reason for AT&T and DirecTV to grossly mislead most of its subscribers. That’s because the vast majority of DirecTV customers face no impact whatsoever from STELAR’s expiration.

    Today, the number of locally unserved households for the five major television networks has dropped to fewer than 500,000 (or less than 0.5% of total U.S. households). Indeed, the U.S. Copyright Office — the expert federal agency on copyright issues — supports expiration of STELAR, and rightly believes that a free-market solution will protect the dwindling number of unserved DirecTV homes from losing access to broadcast programming.

    For most of these relatively few remaining households, DirecTV can easily ensure that its viewers won’t lose access to broadcast network programming when STELAR expires. They can simply deliver on their decade-old pledge to carry all local TV stations in every television market. Today, that pledge remains unfulfilled in 12 U.S. TV markets where it refuses to invest in carriage of local TV stations. There is no longer any technical justification for this anti-consumer decision to deprive viewers of local news, weather and emergency information.

    It is long past time for DirecTV to fulfill its decade-old promise and provide every subscriber with their local TV station signals. That way, DirecTV viewers from Maine to Montana, and from Kentucky to Texas, will be able to watch local TV station affiliates rather than piped-in New York and Los Angeles programming from thousands of miles away.

    DirecTV is doing a serious disservice to both its customers and to Congress by running these misleading messages. We urge AT&T and DirecTV to reconsider airing alerts that only confuse their viewers, and to work with local broadcasters to ensure that all DirecTV customers receive their network programming from local TV affiliates.

  • Patrick McFadden 2:31 pm on September 3, 2019 Permalink  

    300 MHz and I’ll Throw in Floor Mats: Why Haggling Won’t Help the C-band Proceeding 

    In the coming months, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will begin to make final policy determinations concerning a slice of spectrum known as the C-band. The C-band is currently used by satellite operators to distribute content for networks and programmers to broadcasters and plays a critical role in a reliable content distribution system that viewers and listeners rely on today. At the same time, the C-band is attractive spectrum for wireless carriers that seek to add “mid-band” spectrum to their portfolios. The FCC’s challenge is how to provide additional spectrum for mobile broadband services while ensuring viewers and listeners are protected from outages and service disruptions. Central to that challenge is the question of how much spectrum can be reallocated while protecting content distribution.

    The satellite operators themselves have stated that the right number is 200 MHz and have demonstrated how they can accommodate content distribution in the remaining 300 MHz. Whether one agrees with that or any other amount is not a matter of personal preference, but a technical, scientific one. There’s either enough capacity to distribute content using a certain amount of spectrum or there’s not. If there isn’t, forcing satellite operators to come up with 300 MHz for wireless companies has serious, real-life consequences, such as forcing content onto less reliable distribution platforms (e.g., fiber). That could lead to service disruptions or outages.

    Unfortunately, the distinction between a technical, fact-driven policy proceeding and one where the sides are just trading numbers appears to elude some observers who really ought to know better. Last week, New Street’s Blair Levin, a former FCC official, suggested that an alternative proposal to replace C-band distribution with fiber has given the FCC “significant negotiating leverage” with the satellite operators. Respectfully, that assessment is not only inaccurate, but, more importantly, it’s irrelevant.

    First, an alternative proposal only gives you leverage in a transaction if it’s credible. In this case, the proposal to which Mr. Levin refers hasn’t been endorsed by a single programmer or network. It’s an ill-conceived, transparently self-interested proposal that has no chance of working in any reasonable timeframe. It’s also almost comically poorly timed, given that the FCC just released a report regarding CenturyLink’s 37-hour nationwide fiber network outage. If you’re buying a new car, trying to negotiate by telling the dealer you can get a better deal on a unicorn isn’t going to help.

    Second, the focus on leverage misapprehends the central challenge before the Commission, which is not purely transactional, as Mr. Levin suggests. The FCC isn’t haggling over the price of a car, it’s effectively trying to figure out how many wheels the car needs to operate safely. Facts and physics determine that answer, not negotiating leverage. While the FCC in Mr. Levin’s day may have operated in that manner, this one has not and should not. If the satellite operators say 200 MHz can be reallocated and others really want 400 MHz, the solution isn’t to browbeat the operators into giving up 300 MHz and throwing in a rustproofing treatment. Rather, the solution is to look at the information the operators have submitted regarding their transition plan and determine how much capacity can be made available without driving the entire American content ecosystem into a ditch.

    To its enormous credit, the FCC has taken a pragmatic and cautious approach so far in this proceeding and shows every indication that it will continue to do so. That means ignoring calls to take advantage of perceived leverage to try to force an outcome that satellite operators and content providers simply cannot make work with existing technology. We hope the FCC continues down this prudent course so that we all don’t end up with a lemon.

  • Bob Weller 11:40 am on August 5, 2019 Permalink  

    Siren Song in the C-Band 

    Over many months, the C-Band Alliance has worked with broadcasters to satisfy their concerns that giving up 40 percent of the eponymous spectrum used to distribute content to television and radio stations need not degrade the ubiquity and reliability of content contribution and distribution. During that time, the siren song of “more, more, more” echoed in the distance, luring policymakers off-course and potentially toward shipwreck on submerged rocks. We must not ignore the danger of veering off course. We urge policymakers to adhere to a carefully developed navigation plan for reallocation of 200 MHz now.

    Reallocating 200 MHz now is a sound concept based on hard facts that have been independently considered and validated over the past year. Clearing 200 MHz of C-band spectrum is possible only because the necessary equipment changes are limited to filters, receiver tuning and dish positioning (with few exceptions). Calculating the costs and timing for those changes is straightforward because at that level, every satellite network is identical: only an antenna and a receiver are involved.

    Clearing anything beyond 200 MHz will be based on supposition and guesswork because the necessary changes move back from the receiver into the guts of the distribution and network systems, and there the various systems become divergent. Some suggest that more spectrum can be reallocated if higher-efficiency compression is used. That may be true, but it certainly won’t be fast. When you start changing compression systems, a lot of testing is needed because some systems are more sensitive to the artifacts of compression than others. That testing would be needed on nearly every single network because their characteristics and requirements are not the same. Further, most video and audio distribution systems already use compression elsewhere in their networks and when an additional compression system is added at the uplink there can be unpredictable interaction between them.

    Finally, broadcast formats are not static. For example, U.S. television broadcasters are well into preparing to upgrade from HD video to 4K (and possibly higher) resolution with augmentations, including high-dynamic range, wide color gamut and object-oriented audio. These consumer-driven improvements come at a cost: increased bandwidth. While higher-efficiency compression schemes can partially offset the requirements for increased bandwidth, clearing 200 MHz initially helps future-proof that predictable, but as-yet unknown, need. By imposing a requirement to make the present HD satellite systems more efficient and culling the available bandwidth for satellite contribution and distribution there will be no room for future improvements or growth. By pressuring satellite companies and content providers to accept less C-band spectrum now, the Federal Communications Commission could easily be setting the stage for unintended consequences with significant ramifications for competition and the content ecosystem as a whole.

    There may eventually be a safe path forward that avoids the rocks and yields more than 200 MHz of 5G treasure in the C-band. But those seas are as-yet uncharted and be warned: there be dragons.

  • Patrick McFadden 1:54 pm on July 31, 2019 Permalink  

    The Disease of More: Getting to the Right Number, Not the Highest Number, for C-Band 

    The conventional wisdom in the communications arena is that the United States is engaged in a race to be the first nation to deploy the next generation of wireless technology: 5G. But while many insist on the importance of winning the “Race to 5G,” we somehow can’t quite get out of the starting blocks.

    Central to the policy debates over the Race to 5G is a swath of 500 megahertz (MHz) of spectrum affectionately called the “C-band.” Today, over 100 million households in the United States rely on this spectrum band most have never heard of. Satellite companies use C-band spectrum to deliver television and radio programming to broadcasters and others across the country. This C-band spectrum serves as the backbone of television and radio content distribution to American viewers and listeners.

    The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently considering how best to reallocate a portion of the C-band for new wireless services, while ensuring that the remaining amount can continue to support this critical content distribution system. To date, the Commission has given every indication that it appreciates the importance of both these goals; changes are coming to the C-band, but the FCC certainly doesn’t want to lay the groundwork for disastrous and unpredictable consequences to television and radio service.

    Accordingly, up to this point, the FCC has been working as quickly and responsibly as it can to resolve the critical questions regarding what to do with the C-band: how much of the band to reallocate for wireless services, how to accomplish the reallocation, how to ensure continued robust content distribution and how to oversee a complex reallocation process. That process has led to a consensus that it is possible to reallocate a portion of C-band spectrum while protecting television viewers and radio listeners from disruption. Further, a consortium of satellite companies has demonstrated that they can make 200 MHz of spectrum available in the very near future while continuing to accommodate programming distribution in the remaining 300 MHz. While certain details still must be worked out, including the mechanism for the sale of spectrum to wireless companies and the interference rules to ensure a peaceful coexistence between wireless and satellite operations, a 200/300 split has emerged as a bird in the hand that would allow the FCC to move forward quickly without running the risk of programming disruptions.

    Unfortunately, because of pressure from competing interests, the FCC has been reluctant to take the win. The devastating consequence is that the C-Band Alliance, a consortium of satellite operators that currently use the C-band, is feeling undue pressure to come up with even more than 200 MHz to reallocate for wireless services. This pressure will lead to bad results for consumers across the country. As they themselves have insisted to the FCC and their customers, there is simply no reasonable way for satellite operators to provide the same level of service to their existing customers if they must immediately surrender more than 200 MHz.

    The facts haven’t changed. Only the level of pressure on the satellite operators has.

    If we’re really in a race, shouldn’t we start running? There’s a win staring us all in the face – reallocating 200 MHz of C-band spectrum as quickly as possible while protecting critical content distribution infrastructure in the remaining 300 MHz. A relentless insistence on getting to a higher number for the sake of getting to a higher number carries real risk of breaking the content distribution system that viewers and listeners depend on today.

    Moving on the 200 MHz we know can be done today without harming the existing content distribution system does not mean that additional spectrum cannot be reallocated in the future. This does not have to be the end of the process. The Commission can revisit the C-band as technology evolves and alternative distribution mechanisms become more viable. But forcing a messy, disruptive and delayed result for multiple industries for the sake of a higher number of megahertz right now seems to benefit no one.

    We urge the Commission not to make “more” the only goal of this proceeding. The reliable and ubiquitous delivery the C-band affords cannot be duplicated by fiber or spectrum in alternative bands. That seamless reliability and ubiquity is critical to preserving the value of the content ecosystem hundreds of millions of Americans enjoy today. If playoff games, prime time programming or breaking news coverage is interrupted because of decisions the Commission makes in this proceeding, viewers and listeners will not care how much more spectrum the FCC has cleared for next generation wireless services – they will only care how much less reliable their programming has become.

  • Rick Kaplan 12:48 pm on June 20, 2019 Permalink  

    Bringing a Measure of Sanity to the FCC’s Children’s TV Rules 

    On Tuesday, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai announced that the FCC would be voting in July to approve modernized rules governing children’s programming on broadcast television. While the current rules may have once served a purpose in a marketplace led by broadcast television, they certainly no longer have a place in today’s world where kids have a seemingly unending number of video options. A look at the facts rather than the rhetoric makes plain why the FCC is finally headed in the right direction.

    In Washington, we often see issues boiled down to headlines and talking points. Undoubtedly, we’ll see some of this in the coming weeks as certain opponents suggest without support that the FCC’s proposed reforms are bad for kids.

    If we are living in the world of facts, however, there should be no argument that the FCC is correct to be addressing a long-overdue issue. Broadcasters take incredibly seriously the responsibility to serve our communities – including children – with the programming on which they rely. But the reality is that today’s kids are not turning to broadcast television for their video needs. This truth should not be a surprise given the fierce competition for kids’ and families’ attention. In addition to the myriad cable television channels that now specialize in kids programming, the internet has transformed the way young people interact with video. Kids programming is no longer about the half-hour program on Saturday morning. Now, kids can watch anytime, anywhere and on any device, and they do. The landscape has completely changed.

    Don’t take my word for it – just look at the numbers. Last year, fewer than 90 children ages 2-17 watched any given educational and informational program on the average NBC or CBS affiliate station via broadcast antenna. In the last 10 years, Saturday morning viewership of the four major English-language broadcast networks by kids ages 2-11 declined by a remarkable 71 percent. And out of the 4 hours and 30 minutes that kids ages 2-16 spent watching video content per day in 2017, they spent only 37 minutes of that time watching broadcast TV.

    In contrast, in 2017 kids ages 2-16 spent 2 hours and 3 minutes watching internet-based content and 1 hour and 49 minutes watching pay-TV. This makes sense given that 98 percent of homes with children have mobile devices, such as tablets or smartphones, and as of 2017, 75 percent of kids ages eight and younger lived in a home with an internet-connected TV. Ninety-five percent of teens ages 13-17 also own a smart phone or have access to one, and 93 percent of teens ages 13-15 use social platforms to access video, including 82 percent through YouTube, 72 percent through Netflix and 64 percent through cable or satellite TV.

    Even if a barrage of data makes your eyes glaze over, just look around at your sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters or friends. What do they watch? How long do they watch? On what devices do they watch? Is it primarily over-the-air?

    I’m confident the answers to these questions link the data to what you know to be true in your daily life. Kids have tons of options that have completely transformed their viewing habits.

    What hasn’t changed, however, are the rules that treat the world as if we are still living in the 1980s or 90s. Indeed, you may be wondering why it’s necessary (or even permissible) for the government to impose content regulations on broadcast television in the first place. Perhaps that’s a conversation for another day. Regardless, we are well past time to adopt common sense reform of rules that were promulgated well before cable television and the internet began to dominate children’s attention.

    Fortunately, in a process led by FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, the FCC took on this important project. The FCC recognized the need for reform, not merely to reduce burdens to broadcast television stations, but to benefit kids and the community as a whole. Broadcasters cannot own an unlimited number of channels; they have limited airtime to deliver the programming their communities demand. That is why the FCC is proposing to modify its current requirement that broadcasters air three hours of children’s television programming each week to give broadcasters more options on how to best serve kids and the general public.

    For example, per the draft Order released by the Commission yesterday, rather than requiring that all programs be 30 minutes or more in length, the FCC plans to allow broadcasters to experiment with different models to reach kids. Anyone who is around young people knows that kids watch videos in short bursts and are far less likely to sit for a 30-minute program. The FCC also acknowledges what we all know about how kids watch programs. Outside of live sports, appointment viewing is no longer the norm. By allowing broadcasters to air some programs that are not regularly and weekly scheduled, it gives them the opportunity to get creative in how to best serve kids. Rather than mandating a three-hour block of programming each week, this proposal would unshackle broadcasters and allow them to air more programming at times when kids are more likely to watch, such as over winter, spring or summer breaks.

    The changes outlined by the FCC also acknowledge that broadcasters serve a larger audience as well. Stations across the country are expanding their weekend news, public interest programming and live sports that their communities crave. Given that we’ve just passed the 10-year anniversary of the digital television transition, it is also past time that broadcasters are allowed to air some of their children’s mandated television programs on their multicast streams. This adjustment will help broadcasters avoid the unfortunate choice between adding a newscast and meeting their children’s television obligations, and it will cut down on schedule changes to children’s programming that some parties expressed concern about throughout this proceeding. Importantly, multicast streams are available to any family accessing their broadcast programming through a free over-the-air signal.

    NAB believes the Commission could have made even greater strides in its effort to modernize the children’s television rules. Many of the obligations that will remain are still hard to justify given the overwhelming facts in the record. In fact, these rules are a cautionary tale for any industry facing regulation; once rules are in place, no matter what the world looks like decades later, it is very difficult to update them in any meaningful way.

    In lieu of greater reform, however, the FCC did its best to achieve a balance in which all stakeholders should find comfort. Broadcasters will still air a great deal of children’s programming, and homes that don’t have access to the internet will still have access to quality free over-the-air programming. Under these revised rules, however, broadcasters will have the ability to experiment with improving this content in light of today’s video marketplace. If nothing else, the FCC is taking an important and measured step towards a more rational and effective kid vid regime.

    Given the inevitable rhetoric, NAB understands that these common-sense reforms did not come easily. Commissioner O’Rielly, Chairman Pai and the FCC staff developing these new rules should be commended for taking seriously the data in the record and working for lasting reform. In the end, they have produced a proposal that will benefit kids and the public at large.

  • Ann Marie Cumming 4:21 pm on February 27, 2019 Permalink  

    First Informers: Hurricanes Florence and Michael 

    NAB and the Broadcast Education Association are pleased to present the sixth installment in a powerful video series demonstrating the indispensable role that local radio and television broadcasters serve as “first informers” during times of emergency.

    This film focuses on broadcasters’ heroic response to Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Michael, which devasted the Carolinas, Florida Panhandle and other parts of the southeastern United States in September and October 2018. The storms caused massive evacuations, billions of dollars in property damage and sustained hardship for residents of those areas.

    Florence brought catastrophic flooding to the Carolinas in late September, setting records for rainfall and flooding in both states. One month later, Hurricane Michael struck with winds up to 155 mph, making it the strongest storm to ever hit the Florida Panhandle.

    Presented for the first time yesterday in Washington, D.C. at NAB’s State Leadership Conference, this mini-documentary features dramatic footage of the devastation and examples of broadcasters’ valiant efforts to provide life-saving emergency information and community assistance.

    Interviews with dozens of broadcasters demonstrate their dedication to journalism and commitment to serving communities, particularly in times of emergency:

    “We went from 30 minutes to being on air for 24 hours. Not for one day, not just for two, but for a whole week.” – Sandy Marin, Multimedia Journalist/Anchor, WUVC Univision 40 – Raleigh, NC

    “It was one of those moments where you really dig down deep and realize this job is much bigger than me. I am here as a vessel, so to speak, to get this information out and…help people stay alive…” – Valentina Wilson, Anchor, Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s WCTI ABC 12 – New Burn, NC

    “When a disaster hits, you view your audience like your family. These are the people that you’ve met [and] it’s your job to [deliver] the information to them that they need.” – Crystal Legends, Operations Manager, Dick Broadcasting’s WRNS 95.1 — New Bern, NC

    “No doubt in my mind, we literally saved hundreds of thousands of lives. But also, we had to stay behind and broadcast. As broadcasters, someone had to be behind the microphone, giving that life-saving, vital information.” – Dr. Shane Collins, Show Host, iHeart Media’s 92.5 WPAP – Panama City, FL

    “I told the community, ‘wherever you are, we are just going to stay with you, we are going to stay calm with you, we’re going to talk you through this, as it’s happening, to the best of our abilities.’” – Donna Bell, News Director, Gray Television’s WJHG NBC 7 – Panama City, FL

    Many thanks once again to Media Arts Professor Scott Hodgson from the University of Oklahoma and Chandra Clark, professor of Journalism and Creative Media at the University of Alabama. Scott and Chandra, along with their students, compiled extensive footage and conducted dozens of interviews for a video account of broadcasters’ heroic efforts in covering Hurricanes Florence and Michael.

    Previously released videos in the series include a feature on broadcasters’ response to tornadoes that struck Joplin, MO and Tuscaloosa, AL; the second film documented broadcast coverage of Superstorm Sandy; and the third video examined broadcasters’ lifeline role as deadly tornadoes ripped through Moore, OK. The most recent videos focused on broadcasters’ coverage of Hurricane Harvey (Texas) and Hurricane Irma (Florida).

  • Rick Kaplan 1:04 pm on July 12, 2018 Permalink

    Common-Sense Reforms for Children’s TV 

    More than 20 years ago, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) created rules that require over-the-air TV broadcasters – and only over-the-air TV broadcasters – to air a specific amount of children’s educational programming, at specific times, in specific formats and in specific ways. The FCC’s rules implemented the Children’s Television Act of 1990, which was passed into law before the advent of the internet as well as the hundreds of cable and satellite channels that exist today. But while the world around the FCC’s highly prescriptive rules has dramatically changed, the agency didn’t seem to notice.

    Thankfully, this FCC – following the lead of Commissioner Mike O’Rielly – decided it was finally time for the agency to open its eyes and take a peek.

    The result is that the Commission is bearing witness to what everyone else plainly already sees. More to the point, what every kid sees. Namely, that children today have infinitely more options to engage with interactive video content, on myriad platforms and at times of their choosing. Children don’t have to make an “appointment” for their favorite programs; they are available around the clock. Kids can also turn to a variety of sources. Indeed, with the explosion of cable and satellite programming, we’ve seen the development of entire channels dedicated to content for kids. And now with the internet, kids have access to all kinds of new programming – including from over-the-air broadcasters – in ways no one even imagined in 1990.

    Given the unassailable fact that the children’s TV world has changed, the FCC has an obligation to examine its rules in light of those changes. The need for a closer look is especially ripe, because the government’s rules single out over-the-air broadcasters; they act as if broadcast TV is the only way kids are exposed to age-appropriate programming. The FCC’s rules don’t apply to cable programming. They don’t apply to satellite programming. And they don’t apply to the internet (surprise, surprise).

    None of this is to suggest that the FCC should jettison its responsibilities under the Children’s Television Act. It’s merely time – past time, actually – for the Commission to recognize that the world around those rules is very different than the one when they were written in the 1990s. Given the explosion of kids’ content in the marketplace, it is also unnecessary and unduly burdensome (and likely unconstitutional) for the federal government to require that broadcasters air children’s programming on each digital program stream. In addition, the FCC could incentivize better children’s programming were it to count short-form or special block programming towards monthly, quarterly or annual targets.

    Some groups have asserted that the Commission does not have enough data to propose new, more flexible rules. These claims are misguided. The FCC has a wealth of data on the state of the video marketplace. Beyond that, one can simply hit the power switch on his or her TV, computer, tablet or smartphone. The evidence is all on the screen. Today’s kids – from any background – have access to an unprecedented level of educational and informational programming.

    Rather than turning a blind eye to all of the incredible innovations in children’s programming, we should all get down to the business of figuring out what rules still make sense in light of the dramatic changes in the relevant marketplace over the past two decades. It’s a process the agency should take seriously. Leaving rules in place that govern a bygone age is evidence of a government that is abdicating – not pursuing – the responsibilities to which the American public has entrusted it. We are pleased the FCC has taken an important step in the right direction.

  • alisonneplokh 2:04 pm on April 25, 2018 Permalink
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    Shake It Off, Taylor Swift’s Spectrum Advice 

    Our Love Story begins in 2009. As part of the National Broadband Plan, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had a bold idea to fix what it foresaw as a looming spectrum crunch for wireless broadband service. The FCC would broker an auction/exchange between television broadcasters and wireless carriers, and shuffle channels around as necessary. In other words, the wireless industry saw broadcast spectrum and said, “You Belong With Me.

    But how much spectrum should be moved from television to mobile broadband? Nobody knew. Wildly optimistic predictions about the demand for mobile spectrum fueled visions of reallocating as much as 144 MHz of spectrum away from television broadcasters. Others, however, wondered if the auction would succeed at all. When it came time for the FCC to change the frequency allocations, there was only one conclusion: put everything on the table. So, in 2015, when the FCC adopted rules for the incentive auction, it put a Blank Space where the number of MHz to be allocated for wireless broadband would go. And, just in case its Wildest Dreams came true, the Wheeler FCC also made a dual allocation (for both TV and wireless broadband) across the entire UHF TV band domestically, and also lobbied for changes to the international table of frequency allocations at the 2015 World Radio Conference.

    In 2017, the incentive auction closed, with 84 MHz being reallocated from television stations to wireless carriers. While the auction was a success, the anemic bidding in late rounds, lower than expected prices per MHz-pop, and unsold spectrum blocks in large markets like Los Angeles and San Diego suggests a complete lack of lingering demand. So, with all of the questions now answered, the FCC said, “Look What You Made Me Do” to the industries and removed the wireless allocation from spectrum at 512-608 MHz, as well as the broadcast allocation from 614 MHz and above.

    Now, in 2018, it is time to go back to the International Telecommunications Union and update the international spectrum tables once again. The market has spoken. Everything has Changed. There is no reason to keep a wireless allocation below 608 MHz. For the wireless companies to keep a claim to something they have no intention to use is pure greed. That spectrum is for broadcasting Forever and Always. This is our End Game.

  • alisonneplokh 9:32 am on March 13, 2018 Permalink  

    The Negative Sum Game 

    Microsoft would have you believe their proposal to require broadcasters to hold open at least one additional channel in the broadcast band for unlicensed use is not a zero-sum game. They are right, but not in the way they want you to believe.

    TV white spaces held a lot of promise over a decade ago. Perhaps it still does today – by letting unlicensed devices use channels TV stations aren’t using, there is the possibility to make more efficient use of spectrum and provide new services, potentially including additional options for rural broadband access. Broadcasters don’t have any problem with letting Microsoft use truly vacant channels, provided that broadcasters don’t permanently cede their rights to build on those channels in the process. NAB has and will continue to work with Microsoft and other TV white spaces proponents to make reasonable rule changes that improve the ability of unlicensed devices to make use of vacant TV channels.

    But that’s not at all what Microsoft’s “vacant channel” ask is about. Microsoft’s ask is not about using vacant channels, it’s about creating vacant channels. Microsoft is asking the Federal Communications Commission to require that, before broadcasters can make any changes to their existing licenses, they first ask whether there would still be at least one channel available for unlicensed use throughout their entire service area. This creates several costs to broadcasters and their viewers:

    1. No matter what Microsoft says, this is not a win-win proposal. The only way this creates extra space for unlicensed use is by denying a broadcaster a channel. Whether this broadcaster is a major network affiliate delivering high-demand programming and top-notch local and national news, a public broadcaster delivering high-quality educational programming, or an independent broadcaster delivering in-language programming to minority communities, this policy means one less voice in the media market. Microsoft maintains this would be a very rare scenario. But that evades the point that this policy is either irrelevant (because there are plenty of empty channels) or is harmful because it deprives viewers of service.
    2. Broadcasters would have to hold open a channel, even if nobody has any interest in using it. Whether it’s that the particular market in question has no demand for white spaces or that the whole white spaces idea is never successful, broadcasters can’t retain or expand broadcast service, because it would violate Microsoft’s proposed rule. White spaces is supposed to be about letting people camp on empty lots, not forcing broadcasters to leave their lots empty just in case someone wants to come along and pitch a tent, even if nobody ever does. Effectively, Microsoft gets squatters’ rights without even having to go through the trouble of squatting.
    3. Even if there is plenty of space available, broadcasters have to spend money to prove that. A few thousand dollars to conduct a study might sound like a small issue when you envision a large broadcast group, but this also applies to rural low-power television stations and TV translators that operate on a shoestring budget and are often community funded. And, multiply that “small number” by thousands of broadcast stations across the country, and you get to a really big problem.

    Calling this a zero-sum game is actually optimistic. At best, this proposal creates winners – the massive Microsoft Corporation – and losers – local broadcasters and their viewers. But most likely, everyone loses.

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