The FCC has wasted no time in pressing ahead with the discussion of whether the spectrum currently used by local broadcast television stations is being put to the greatest use and whether it should be "re-purposed" for the so-called broadband effort. This afternoon, the FCC issued a Public Notice soliciting comments by December 21st regarding the demand for spectrum, the factors the FCC should review when considering the re-purposing of TV spectrum, and potential approaches to increasing spectrum availability and efficiency. Although the Public Notice asks broad, far-ranging policy questions, the comment date for the "specific data" that the Commission seeks to obtain from interested parties is less than three weeks away, which hardly seems adequate for a proper, informed discussion on an issue of this magnitude. The specific topics of discussion identified by the Commission and details about how to submit comments can be found in the Commission’s Notice.
Among the issues broadcasters will undoubtedly address (and indeed have already begun to address in other forums) is the fact that the forthcoming spectrum crisis — which seems to have become a given in certain circles — has not been well substantiated. Related to that is the notion that broadcasters already have the ability to lease any "excess" digital television spectrum and use the capacity to provide broadband access, mobile services, or virtually anything else under the sun. Stations will likely suggest that this mechanism will allow the wireless broadband market to tap this spectrum without further government intervention, if and when the demands of the wireless market require it. Other issues sure to be of discussion is the value of local broadcast stations, the usefulness of free over-the-air broadcasting, the future of broadcast journalism, and the service stations provide to the public, just to name a few. It will be challenging, to say the least, for commenters to quantify and address any of these significant questions within just 19 days.
Having just completed the DTV transition six months ago, it seems that broadcasters have barely been given a chance to operate on their digital spectrum and to explore the options afforded by the transition in terms of high-definition, multicasting, data casting, broadband access, and mobile TV, just to name a few, before having to rush to defend its use, or lack thereof. The Commission’s rush to solicit comments is clearly guided by its need to develop a broadband plan early next year, however, the issues raised by today’s Public Notice are among the most significant it has ever attempted to address, certainly with respect to broadcasting and mass media. It goes without saying, but there is much, much more to be said about these issues, so stay tuned. And see our earlier blog entries (including here) for further thoughts on the matter.