An article from TV NewsCheck last week reported on an approach by an FCC representative to television operators, floating an idea that the FCC would "buy" TV spectrum from existing television station operators, and repurpose that spectrum for wireless users – presumably some sort of wireless broadband. The funds to buy the spectrum would come from the auction of the frequencies. Over-the-air TV viewers would perhaps be left with a limited over-the-air service. Today, another article cites a study filed at the Commission that suggests that the auction of TV spectrum could bring in more than three times the value of what that spectrum is for broadcasting. Could these developments grow into a ground swell that could signal the end of over-the-air television? Nicholas Negroponte made the much quoted observation almost 15 years ago, before the Internet was the multi-media service that it is today – that communications devices that were wired will become unwired, and those that were wireless would become wired – the "Negroponte Switch" or the process of "unwiring." But is this switch inevitable for television, and is it in the industry’s best interest?
The theory of unwiring looked at the growing demands of wireless data networks for more and more bandwidth. While voice and data services were, at one time, wired services (the plain old telephone, the fax, even the telegraph), more and more of that information is now being digitally packaged and delivered wirelessly. At the same time, video programming was delivered through wireless over-the-air television (though no one ever referred to it as "wireless"), but each year is more and more delivered by wired means (by cable companies and what used to be telephone companies). At this point, estimates are that only a bit more than 10% of television households get their television programming exclusively from over-the-air reception. Looking at this transition, some have theorized that the progression would continue, and the broadcast services would end up being delivered to fixed locations by wire, while the data services would be delivered wirelessly.