For those who don’t know, “spectrum” is techno-speak for the airwaves used to transmit TV shows and cell phone calls among other things. And it’s at the center of what is being called one of the biggest telecom lobbying battles of the year. National Association Of Broadcasters chief Gordon Smith told station owners last week at their annual convention in Las Vegas that the trade group is “in full battle mode.” If he means it, then it would be a big threat to the Obama administration’s wireless broadband plan. The broadcasters’ trade group would rather eat glass than give up the medium they’ve used to transmit shows since the 1950s, when Milton Berle ruled primetime. The NAB’s biggest concern is that the government might seize spectrum without a broadcaster’s consent. CBS chief Les Moonves echoed that message when he said last week that, as long as it “remains voluntary, we’re fine with that. Because we’re not going to volunteer.”
True, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski promises that “no broadcaster will be forced to offer up spectrum for auction.” Those who do, he adds, “will know exactly what the deal is before relinquishing any rights.” And that’s the key. Will this turn into a titanic battle that will shape the future of media and the digital economy? I’m of the opinion that there isn’t thatbig a divide between the FCC and NAB’s positions. And I think all the posturing and threats will end as soon as Genachowski and the NAB can agree on how much stations owners should receive for giving up their claim on what used to be thought of as the public’s property.
Here’s what you need to know now: (more…)