There is a vote scheduled for November 4 that is very easily overshadowed by another, somewhat more high-profile vote. While the nation’s voters decide whether Barack Obama or John McCain (or Cynthia McKinney or Bob Barr) will be the next president the FCC will be making an important decision about the future of internet access in the US.
At its Nov. 4 meeting the FCC is scheduled to decide on opening up to broadband wireless internet spectrum being vacated by the analog TV turn-off. Already FCC engineers have released a report endorsing this use of these so-called “white spaces.”
Predictably, the National Association of Broadcasters is going to great lengths to prevent this from happening, sensing a credible threat to their broadcast spectrum oligopoly and plans to turn TV and radio frequencies into tightly-controlled digital networks that are internet-like but mostly useful for helping you spend money. Like in 2000 when they cried “interference” over the creation of 100 watt low-power FM stations next to their 50,000 watt blowtorches, the NAB is challenging the FCC’s own engineers to claim that opening up white spaces for what is being called “wi-fi on steroids” will cause interference to television broadcasts. Nevermind that the FCC engineer’s are about as cautious and conservative a bunch you’ll ever find, backed up by independent analysts time and again.
So what do you do when you’re a industry lobbying group that doesn’t have the engineering facts on your side? Why, you lobby Congress with bogus arguments hoping they’ll intervene! The NAB also filed a request with the FCC to delay the vote, which doesn’t seem to be getting a warm reception at the Commission.
It’s no secret that the broadcast industry isn’t in great shape, largely due to decades of backwards-looking, anti-innovation business moves combined with repeated Congressional and FCC lobbying efforts to win regulatory protection in direct conflict with their free-market rhetoric. Now the NAB has no problem blocking the potential for greater nationwide broadband internet access that could be especially valuable to rural and other underserved areas. Just think, anywhere that can receive an over-the-air TV signal now could be receiving broadband internet wirelessly.
Groups like Free Press are running campaigns to help reach out to your congresscritters, though I’m betting they’re unlikely to pay much attention to the NAB’s bellyaching right now.
I’ll also be covering the issue on this week’s radioshow, with eagle-eyed FCC watcher Matthew Lasar joining to bring maximum analysis to the situation.