Friday, April 22, 2011

Report: A Clash Over the Airwaves

From Edward Wyatt,
Dropped calls. Maps that take eons to load. Echoing voices on a mobile phone. And, as iPhone users know, the dreaded “Cannot Open Page.“

Those annoyances are likely to get worse, as airwaves that carry cellphone signals and wireless Internet connections grow ever more crowded.

The Federal Communications Commission has a solution: reclaim airwaves from “inefficient“ users — specifically, television broadcasters — and auction them off to the highest bidder, sharing some of the proceeds with television stations that volunteer to give up airwaves, known in the trade as spectrum.

Broadcasters, however, are furious with the plan, setting the stage for an old media vs. new media lobbying battle with cellphone companies and the government.

NYTimes photo
“We’re in full battle mode to protect broadcasters from being forced to give up spectrum,“ said Gordon H. Smith, president of the National Association of Broadcasters and a former United States senator, addressing his members at their meeting here last week. The CTIA, the lobbying group for the wireless industry, quickly fired back, accusing broadcasters of “desperate and inaccurate stall tactics,” said Steve Largent, the group’s president, who is a former Oklahoma congressman and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Broadcasters have long been under siege, their audiences slipping away to cable television, their advertisers defecting to the Internet. Although giving up spectrum would go unnoticed by most viewers, the fight to hold onto a chunk of the airwaves could be the industry’s biggest battle in years.

“We are not going to volunteer,“ said Leslie Moonves, the CBS chief executive. “Spectrum is our lifeblood.“

CBS owns and operates 14 stations in the large markets that the F.C.C. is considering for spectrum sell-offs.

Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill, in whose hallways the battle is likely to be fought over the next year, have already challenged the assertion that the auctions would be completely voluntary.
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