Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Delaying The Digital TV Cut Over Has Some Consequences

I was going to write a blog entry with the very same argument.  No need to bother - this guy argues the very same thing:

In summary - the very same 700Mhz space that is now being used by many UHF stations that are not getting much play in the day of cable is slated to be used by the next generation of high speed wireless Internet networks.

It is quite ironic that the same people who claim that the USA has fallen behind on technology and broadband access are unwilling to pull the plug on analog TV on February 17th, effectively delaying the transition.

Obama's Broadband Challenge By Kevin Fitchard

Today we have a new president. While it’s probably unseemly to start taking shots at Barack Obama on the day of his inauguration, I believe it’s only fair to point out that our new president is starting his new administration’s broadband policy with a contradiction.

Obama wants to delay the Feb. 17 digital TV transition date in order to buy more time for millions of Americans who don’t yet have the conversion technology necessary to receive digital signals. Cutting off millions of constituents from their primary source of news and entertainment wouldn’t just be politically disastrous; it would be socially unconscionable, considering the majority of the people affected by the analog cutoff are those who can’t afford a fancy new digital TV, cable or satellite service.

But on the other hand, Obama has begun to promote a new broadband policy that emphasizes faster and better data connections to more Americans over a greater variety of platforms. The argument goes that broadband infrastructure is just as vital as the highways, bridges and electrical lines to achieving future prosperity.

The problem is that the 700 MHz spectrum at the center of the DTV transition debate is one of the keys to growth as a broadband nation. The long-term evolution (LTE) and other data networks that go up over those frequencies may not target rural areas, but they do plenty to realize other requirements of a broadband society. First, 4G technologies will be the first truly mobile means of broadband, expanding the narrow pipes currently available over 3G networks while eliminating the mobility barriers between Wi-Fi hotspots. Second, 4G technologies will drive down the cost of wireless broadband, taking advantage of a simplified network architecture and more efficient use of spectrum. 4G won’t revolutionize broadband overnight, but it’s a critical step in building an unfettered broadband lifestyle. For Obama’s new administration, delaying the deployment of these technologies by three months isn’t a good way to kick off its new broadband policy.

I realize that there are many factors that could delay deployment of these networks — vendor production delays, access to capital, carriers’ unrealistic timetables — some for far longer than 90 days. A new June 12 deadline probably won’t stop AT&T and Verizon’s LTE networks in their tracks. But Qualcomm has made it very clear it’s set to flip the switch on hundreds of transmitters the day after Feb. 17. After spending years working around broadcasters in hundreds of markets, it has been waiting for the day that channel 55 goes static across the country to finally complete its nationwide MediaFLO network. Now at the 11th hour it’s told it will probably have to wait.

Qualcomm rightly points out that it spent millions of dollars purchasing those licenses and millions more building out its TV networks with the expectation it would have unfettered access to them on a specific date. What’s probably most frustrating is the money to fund the DTV transition, education program and digital converter subsidization program came directly from the proceeds Qualcomm and other 700 MHz winners forked over at auction. The government had the money and it most certainly had the time, but it botched it just the same. It may not be Obama’s administration that did the botching, but he’s inherited the problem, and if he’s not careful he could make a miserable situation even worse. He and Congress probably have no choice but to extend the transition deadline — too many people would be left looking at dead air — but he can’t do it without consequence, nor without concession to the wireless industry. Some restitution needs to be made to Qualcomm and other operators that can prove they had immediate plans for the 700 MHz bands. If no concession is made, then Obama might find his broadband plan harder to implement. Telcos might not be so keen to accept one of Obama’s broadband grants or loans, bid in auction or even support a new initiative if they know the terms could change instantly and arbitrarily.

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