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

    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, , Television   

    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.

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