Powell: TV wastes spectrum

Dec 3, 2001  •  Post A Comment

With more consumers than ever paying to get their television from cable and satellite services, federal regulators may need to assess whether broadcasting is wasting spectrum.
At least that was one of the pitches from Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell in an exclusive interview with Electronic Media last week.
“There is some truth to the fact that if trends continue in which the mass market is not actually using the airwaves as a vehicle for receiving the product, then there’s a danger that the spectrum is underutilized,” Mr. Powell said, noting that more than 86 percent of consumers already pay for satellite or cable delivery.
Assuming the trend toward pay TV continues, Mr. Powell said he believes broadcast programming will still be popular, even though its delivery system may “morph into different kinds of forms.”
Mr. Powell also said the trend toward pay television helps explain why he wants to reform FCC spectrum rules to make it easier for broadcasters and others to sell their frequencies for new uses.
“What we’re trying to do is create a world where spectrum can get to more productive uses that are more highly valued by consumers,” he said.
“We make a mistake, in my opinion, because we always talk about this as to which producers get gored or don’t get gored or get big or don’t get big, and somehow, for all the talk of the public interest, we often forget about that actual consumer that that is supposed to run to,” Mr. Powell said.
“That statistic about consumers on pay TV is a way of illustrating where the consumer sits on that question.”
In addition, Mr. Powell said the desire of federal regulators to get back at least one of the two channels that broadcasters now have to help them make the switch to digital has spurred renewed interest in encouraging the transition.
“There’s a much more palpable recognition that one spectrum slice aside, two is definitely troubling for the long-term spectrum needs of the country,” Mr. Powell said.
“When you combine that with the trends of viewers, it definitely says the government and the industry should be looking to facilitate the returns of that spectrum or the kind of market principles that will allow it to move to better uses,” he said.