Feds ready to offer cash for broadcasters' spectrum

It used to be said in the 20th Century that it's not a good idea to fight with someone who buys ink by the gallon. The 21st Century equivalent might be that it's not a good idea to fight with someone who controls the evening news. But that seems to be exactly what the federal government is doing as it tries to wrest bandwidth from broadcasters for wireless services on a new national broadband plan.

The most recent effort is federal legislation called the Spectrum Measurement and Policy Reform Act. It says, translated from legislative legalese, that the FCC, which wants broadcasters to give up about 120 MHz of spectrum but needs Congressional help to make it happen, should be able to decide if it's in the public interest to grab spectrum from a broadcaster "in order to permit the assignment of new initial licenses."

In return, the bill said that broadcasters would be able to share "in an amount determined in the discretion of the commission" with any money raised through an auction of the relinquished spectrum.

"We can and should know how our spectrum is being used and do more to encourage more efficient and productive use," said Sen. John Kerry, who, along with Sen. Olympia Snowe introduced the bill.

Broadcasters, of course, have been holding tightly to their spectrum, claiming, among other things, that it's essential for a new range of mobile digital TV (mobile DTV) offerings. Cable operators are watching closely, because if broadcasters lose their spectrum they will become more reliant on local cable system carriage--which could strain the networks and perhaps create more retransmission wars.

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