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  • Dennis Wharton 2:28 pm on November 2, 2011 Permalink  

    CTIA Diminishes Broadcast Diversity. Really? 

    Sometimes statements get made inside the Beltway that are so shockingly arrogant that one has to step back and ask: Really?

    That moment came after yesterday’s NAB news conference to highlight the launch of The Future of TV Coalition — a coalition formed to promote the use of digital television spectrum to help spur program diversity on free, over-the-air television. The event featured former United Nations Ambassador and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, who has co-founded with Martin Luther King III, a majority-owned African-American broadcast network – targeting African-American viewers – called Bounce TV.

    Bounce — which is now available to half of all America and 65 percent of African-American homes — will be launching on Channel 9 in Washington, D.C. by Jan. 1. It is just one example of the creative ways that broadcasters are using digital TV spectrum to serve diverse audiences. Also at the news conference was Carmen DiRienzo of Vme Media, a network devoted to serving Hispanic TV viewers with quality programming on public TV, and representatives of companies that are using DTV-2 “multicast” channels to deliver multi-cultural and multi-lingual programming to the melting pot of viewers that are today’s America.

    The members of the coalition, who reach African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American, senior, rural, young and new Americans, believe that it’s critical that they reach their audiences using authentic voices from the communities they represent. And digital broadcasting is the vehicle to do just that.

    For example, many of the multicasting channels in the top 25 U.S. markets are foreign language. In Los Angeles, there are 48 DTV2 channels, and 18 are foreign language offerings, broadcasting in Spanish, Chinese, Armenian, Korean, and Vietnamese. In Washington, D.C., foreign-language and ethnic channels include broadcasts in Russian, French, Japanese, Spanish, Arabic and Chinese.

    But apparently CTIA – The Wireless Association has a problem with that.

    After the NAB news conference, CTIA released a statement that reads: “When you have to form a coalition to talk about your future, perhaps it suggests you don’t have one.”

    Ponder that for a moment.

    The successful DTV transition paved the way for a new generation of broadcasters to innovate and serve a new, diverse generation of viewers. And participants in yesterday’s NAB event clearly demonstrated that the future of TV is one where young Americans have the opportunity to have a seat at the table. This is an America where traditionally underserved communities have opportunity to invest, innovate, and expand their voices and reach within their own communities. These networks and programs will reach a new pool of viewers, advertisers, investors – and ultimately will create more economic opportunity and jobs across the U.S.

    It’s regrettable that CTIA – on the heels of the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial – would presume to diminish the importance of start-up networks designed to serve previously underserved audiences.

    NAB sees Bounce as the embodiment of the bright future of television, and we will continue to support the creation and growth of broadcast businesses that serve minority viewers.

  • Gordon H. Smith 10:54 am on July 19, 2011 Permalink  

    What’s the Best Use of Broadcast Airwaves? 

    The following column was published in the July 14, 2011 edition of Missouri News Horizon.

    * * *

    As the debate rages in Washington, DC over auctioning free and local broadcast television airwaves for fee-based wireless broadband applications, one of the questions being pondered is, “What’s the highest and best use of this valuable resource?”

    The answer is: “It depends whom you ask.”

    If you queried the citizens of Alabama, many would respond: “For emergency weather warnings, because it was local TV weather forecasters who saved our lives.”

    Ask those who rely exclusively on broadcasting as their only source for television, and they might answer: “For free TV, because it is the best bargain anywhere. I watch news, public affairs programming and the best, most popular entertainment, and it doesn’t cost me a dime.”
    Those in the growing pay-TV “cord-cutting” movement might say: “To supplement my online TV viewing with live sports and free TV, and to end an unpleasant relationship with my subscription-TV provider.”

    America’s growing immigrant population — being served by an exploding number of foreign-language channels — might answer: “For news about my culture and heritage, and programming tailored to my family and me.”

    Simply put, broadcast television has something for everyone.

    Even in pay-TV households, over 90 of the top 100 primetime programs each week are on a broadcast channel.

    Interested in sports? Last time I checked, there were apps for that, including the NFL, NCAA football and basketball, and marquee events like the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series, the Masters and the Kentucky Derby — all exclusively on broadcast television.

    And when there’s breaking news, an Amber alert child that needs to be rescued, or a weather emergency, Americans tune to local broadcasting for information that can be the difference between life and death.

    Those of us in broadcasting are somewhat bemused by the notion that local television is “yesterday’s technology.” Never mind the explosive growth in TV antenna sales, the roaring broadcast advertising market, or that poll after poll shows Americans rely on local television as their No. 1 source for news. Never mind that as a “one-to-everyone” delivery system, broadcasting is far more efficient at delivering video than are the “one-to-one” cell phone and Internet service providers. The “broadcasting is dead” crowd has made up its mind, and, by golly, facts are not going to stand in the way.

    What is perhaps most disappointing in this debate is the dismissive treatment of those Americans exclusively reliant on free TV. Nationally, that number grew four million from last year to 46 million viewers – 15% of the television-watching population – and will continue growing as consumers cut the pay-TV cord and reject costly monthly subscriptions.

    New research found that about one out of four Asian-American and Spanish-speaking households and 17% of African-American homes rely solely on over-the-air broadcasting. One out of five adults age 18-34 is broadcast-only. Milwaukee, Boise, El Paso and South Bend are just a few of the cities where OTA penetration ranges from 20% to 32%. Are those people not important? Should their TV viewing suffer to accommodate faster app downloads in Manhattan?

    Just two years ago, broadcasters transitioned to digital and high-definition, which offers limitless opportunity for local stations to reinvent their business model and better serve viewers. Broadcasters are rolling out mobile DTV to provide on-the-go viewers with access to live and local programming anytime, anywhere on their smartphones, laptops and even the backseats of cars.

    To be clear: broadcasters are ready and willing to work with all interested parties in expanding wireless broadband. However, it is important for policymakers to reject shortsighted solutions, and to recognize that local economies are reliant on broadcasters and local advertising as an engine for economic growth. We must recognize that broadband and broadcast are not mutually exclusive, and that both broadcasting and broadband are needed to address the nation’s growing communications needs. The promise of digital television should not be sacrificed on the altar of a national broadband plan seemingly premised on a belief that fee-based national broadband services are more valuable to society than free and local broadcasting.

    In the final analysis, the question should be asked: What part of free and local television do broadcasting critics not like?

  • Lynn Claudy 10:58 am on March 29, 2011 Permalink
    Tags: Einstein, ,   

    You Don’t Have to Be Einstein to Understand Broadcasters Are Efficiently Using Spectrum 

    A bad combination last night — catching up on reading the latest in the broadcast spectrum debate followed by a book on the life and sayings of Albert Einstein.  Fell asleep, and dreamed of walking the tree-lined streets of Princeton with the Great Professor, discussing spectrum policy.  It went something like this:

    Me: It’s frustrating — we’re getting the facts out there about television broadcasters being extremely efficient spectrum users but the message just isn’t sinking in.  Almost every other day somebody criticizes broadcasters for “squatting” on spectrum. It’s unsubstantiated rhetoric from the uninformed, but the future of broadcasting is at stake.

    Einstein: “I never think about the future — it comes soon enough.”

    Me: Well, the future may be coming pretty fast now for serious consideration of broadcast spectrum reallocation. The selling job for how simple it would be to reallocate spectrum from television broadcasting to mobile broadband ignores a lot of important details, but a lot of people are buying into it.

    Einstein: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

    Me: Exactly.  Here’s an example of an argument about the inefficiency of broadcasting that is just way too simple to be true.  The argument goes like this: Broadcasters have 294 MHz of spectrum available in Washington DC — 49 channels between channel 2 and channel 51 — and…

    Einstein: But there are 50 channels between channel 2 and channel 51.

    Me: Sorry, I shouldn’t have over-simplified.  Channel 37 doesn’t count — it’s reserved for radio astronomy.  Anyway, we have to deal with these armchair analysts who will argue that there are 49 broadcast channels available in Washington DC but there are only about a dozen or so television stations, so the rest of the spectrum is being wasted.

    Einstein: Oh, I see what you mean.  So they ignore the fact that stations that operate on the same channel have to be a certain minimum distance apart so they won’t interfere with each other. And in congested areas, like the East Coast, the distance between cities is such that you just can’t re-use the same channels in nearby cities, so the total number of channels needed is a lot more than the number of stations in a given city.

    Me: You catch on quick.  And that’s true for operating on adjacent channels too, since television receivers don’t have the ability to perfectly filter out station signals in nearby cities that use adjacent channels, although you can use adjacent channels for stations in the same city.  But that means, for example, you can’t use the same channels or adjacent channels in Baltimore and Washington DC, since they’re only about 40 miles apart.  And if you add a third city close by, and a fourth, those 49 television channels don’t really go very far, not when you’re dealing with the over 1700 stations in the country.  So this attempt at a common sense theory that broadcasting could get by with far fewer channels without reducing the number of stations or reducing the service areas of those stations just doesn’t fit the facts.

    Einstein: “If the facts don’t fit the theory, change the facts.”

    Me: That’s about the size of it.

    Einstein: The adjacent channel angle is interesting.  How close adjacent channel stations can be to each other would be determined by the relative ability of receivers to reject those unwanted adjacent channel signals, no?  Are the interference rejection characteristics of the receiver population well known and reliable?

    Me: Not to a great degree of certainty.  Funny you should mention receiver characteristics though.  The FCC has never adopted mandated receiver standards for wireless services.  But an official at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which oversees government use of spectrum, just sent a letter to the FCC telling them that when designing new wireless services that will share the use of spectrum with other services, “one of the key steps in any analysis is identifying the interference protection criteria (IPC) of the incumbent receivers.” They also said “the FCC should seek comment on how the IPC values should be specified for incumbent receivers, and the specific IPC values to be used.”

    Current and former technical FCC officials also talked about the need for receiver standards recently and noted that the topic of receiver standards is one that will be addressed, and recommendations made, by the FCC Technological Advisory Council — hey, I’m a member of that group. The second public meeting of the Technological Advisory Council is on Wednesday of this week.

    In addition, NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith just sent a letter to key Congressional leaders pointing out that the FCC is starting to take notice that knowledge of receiver performance for rejecting interfering signals is critical to making the most efficient use of spectrum in designing wireless services.  Frankly, all this newfound interest in exploring obligations for receiver manufacturers to meet performance standards for the sake of efficient spectrum planning is a rather refreshing new approach.

    Einstein: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

    Me: I’m not sure whether you’re being cynical or ironic, but I certainly agree with the sentiment. And I’m sure you’ll appreciate that it’s really hard not to be cynical about politicians and regulators insisting that a broadcast spectrum re-allocation process will be all-voluntary for broadcasters.  Participating in incentive auctions, assuming that Congress authorizes them, might be voluntary actions.  But to clear the significant nationwide spectrum swath desired by the mobile broadband providers, broadcast stations will need to be re-packed, or re-located, into a smaller band of spectrum, and voluntary is not the word to describe that wide-scale operation of forcing stations to change channels.

    Re-packing the television channels to create cleared spectrum for mobile broadband without harming the incumbent broadcast service, if it’s possible at all, is a computationally intense math problem for really fast computers.  The FCC is developing this capability but all they’ve produced so far was released last June and showed really poor results — only one 6 MHz channel could be cleared nationwide by re-packing the existing broadcasters.  We’ve been waiting to see more refined results, or at least a detailed description of the Allotment Optimization Model’s algorithm for re-packing, but nothing has been made available so far.  If the computer model has something significant to offer, that would be a basis for further quantitative analysis.  Otherwise, this is more of a political debate.

    Einstein: “Politics is for the present but an equation is for eternity.”

    Me: That boils it down to the essentials. By the way, did you really say “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler?”

    Einstein: Well, it’s certainly been attributed to me by a lot of people.  What I really said was:

    “It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.”

    But it essentially means the same thing, if you reduce the words to being as simple as possible, but no simpler.

    Me: That’s definitely irony, right?  Well, it was nice chatting with you today, even though it’s just a dream. I am infinitely indebted to you for your time and your insight about spectrum policy.

    Einstein: “Only two things are infinite; the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”

    Me: I’m not touching that one.

  • Dennis Wharton 11:30 am on March 23, 2011 Permalink
    Tags: , Satellite, ,   

    Verbatim Quotes are Stubborn Things 

    It’s been said by cynics that the only real gaffe committed inside the Beltway is when someone actually tells the truth. That’s why we’ve gotten a chuckle out of the overheated protestations from our friends in the wireless industry after NAB submitted evidence from two top telecommunications industry executives suggesting that “Heck yes, we’re warehousing spectrum. So what?”

    Let’s review the bidding: Dish Network CEO Charlie Ergen recently told investment analysts that his company made a speculative investment in spectrum because spectrum “has value, ‘just as an asset.'”

    That’s not new verbiage from Mr. Ergen. Indeed, on a November 2010 earnings call, the Dish CEO said that his company bought spectrum 700 MHz from broadcasters “as a building block…a pretty good inflation hedge, and they’re not making any more of that spectrum. If we’re not able to strategically do something with that spectrum, there’s probably other people who are able to do that.”

    According to the must read publication Communications Daily, Mr. Ergen elaborated on his investment: “I think one of the better things we did was that we resisted the temptation to go out and try to build it out and spend more money on the buildout for it without really knowing where we want to go…. I don’t know whether our timing’s right or not on 700MHz. At some point, that will be a valuable spectrum to somebody. And if we can figure out a way to use it, that’s good. If we can’t then somebody else will own it,” said Ergen.

    Dish Network apparently isn’t alone in its desire to squat on valuable airwaves. Communications Daily reported on Jan. 28 that Time Warner Cable has no plans to deploy recently acquired spectrum. Paraphrasing recent remarks on an analyst call from Time Warner Cable Chief Operating Officer Rob Marcus, respected Communications Daily reporter Josh Wein wrote that the company “has no plans to sell, lease or use its AWS spectrum licenses. … The recent AT&T acquisition of Qualcomm’s MediaFLO spectrum bodes well for the value of the cable operator’s spectrum holdings.”

    So there you have it: two massive telecom companies candidly admitting that they are in the business of sitting on valuable spectrum.

    When NAB pointed out these obviously newsworthy and noteworthy comments, spin doctors at both Time Warner Cable and Dish Network circled the wagons. Predictably, this strategy of denial was embraced by other telecom companies and trade associations who are apoplectic over the possibility of a serious unbiased spectrum inventory. God forbid there would be a serious and thorough review of whether companies that were given or bought spectrum are actually following through on timetables and promises to deploy it. After all, that would not fit into their neat little “spectrum crisis” tale that they’re foisting on Congress.

    The tap dancing of the telecom giants and their enablers brings to mind a famous scene in “The Wizard of Oz” where Toto pulls back the curtain and exposes the fact that Oz has — in fact — no magical powers.

    In the movie, Dororthy and the Scarecrow were asked to “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” — just like America is expected to pay no attention to verbatim spectrum hoarding admissions from Time Warner Cable and Dish Network.

  • Jennifer Jose 10:43 am on March 2, 2011 Permalink
    Tags: , The Future of TV   

    Your Favorite TV Shows: Could Government Policy Impact Them? 

    I have a confession to make – I’m hooked on “American Idol.” Not many people know that about me. But it’s hard to resist watching when my 42” HDTV is beaming the vibrant colors of Jennifer Lopez’s dresses and Steven Tyler’s fabulous highlighted locks into my living room. And what’s even better is that I don’t have to pay anything to get my shows – I use an antenna and get all my favorite programs for free.

    Did you know that 98 of the top rated 100 shows are on broadcast television – not cable or satellite? They include shows such as my favorite “American Idol,” “Sunday Night Football” and “Dancing With the Stars.” Millions of viewers like me are loving their digital televisions and are buying HD sets for an even better viewing experience. (More …)

  • Dennis Wharton 3:59 pm on June 17, 2010 Permalink
    Tags: Comcast, , Free Press, Ivan Seidenberg, , , Verizon   

    The overlooked spectrum squatters 

    SNL Kagan media reporter Tim Doyle uncovered an interesting factoid this week when he reported that SpectrumCo, a cable-backed consortium, is sitting on $2.4 billion worth of spectrum that the company purchased in 2006. The airwaves are unused, and according to Doyle’s report, “It does not seem as if that will change soon, either.”

    With intense focus from the FCC on broadcast TV spectrum as a “solution” to the nation’s alleged “looming spectrum crisis,” cable has been largely overlooked, a fact that has drawn jeers from both sides of an almost always disagreeable duo: Verizon and the consumer group Free Press.

    (More …)

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