New law could free up TV airwaves for mobile use

Feb 28, 2012 By ANICK JESDANUN , AP Technology Writer

A new law could result in fewer TV stations on the air, in exchange for faster wireless data services for smartphones and tablet computers.

Before you rush out to download "Bad Teacher" from , though, keep in mind that several things need to happen over the next few years before people start seeing faster wireless speeds.

The law, part of a package signed by President last week, gives the authority to explore such an exchange. The will have to write the rules for it in the coming months.

The idea is to squeeze over-the-air television, which has few viewers, into a smaller slice of the airwaves. Anything freed would be available for bidding by companies, including such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless.

Broadcasters will need to decide whether they want to give up their frequencies. Those that do could continue to operate as cable-only channels if they don't want to go out of business. Bidding for freed airwaves likely won't begin until late 2013 or early 2014, partly to give bidders time to raise money to pay for any spectrum they win.

Although vast swaths of broadcast spectrum were freed when television signals converted from analog to digital in 2009, much of that has already been claimed. Technology companies have been clamoring for even more airwaves to satisfy growing consumer appetite for movies, books and websites on mobile devices.

About 11 million households lack cable or satellite service and get TV signals only over the air, according to Nielsen. That compares with 89 million who are cable or satellite subscribers.

There are more than 330 million devices active on cellular networks, which could benefit from the transfer of the spectrum.

The FCC envisions freeing up 500 megahertz of spectrum over the next 10 years. As much as a quarter of that could come from television.

The National Association of Broadcasters isn't sure how many stations would go along, and it's watching to make sure no broadcaster will be forced to participate. Some might have to move to a different frequency, such as from Channel 49 to Channel 19, but they would be compensated to build new towers and make other adjustments. Viewers using antennas would have to find the station's new home.

Television stations once had Channels 2 to 83, except for 37, which is used for astronomy. Channels 70 to 83, mostly used to retransmit signals from other channels, disappeared in the 1980s and have been reassigned to other uses. Stations gave up Channels 52 to 69 in 2009 as part of a transition to digital broadcasts, and much of that has already been reassigned. Depending on how many stations want to participate, Channels 31 to 51, excluding 37, could be freed up.

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User comments : 5

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winthrom
5 / 5 (1) Feb 28, 2012
The "free" airwaves are auctioned off and the free public access to information (the lifeblood of freedom and democracy) goes to the highest bidder.
Deesky
3.5 / 5 (8) Feb 28, 2012
I say it's a good move. Broadcast TV is becoming increasingly anachronistic with the proliferation of on-demand internet services and alternative viewing platforms. Not to mention how much of what's broadcast is total rubbish, but that's a value judgement.

However, I can also see a looming problem with increased mobile spectrum/speeds. Mobile devices will increasingly start using streaming and p2p services, which will lead to more congestion and the need for more bandwidth. Already a bittorrent client is in development for the Android platform...
kaasinees
1 / 5 (1) Feb 29, 2012
I say it's a good move. Broadcast TV is becoming increasingly anachronistic with the proliferation of on-demand internet services and alternative viewing platforms. Not to mention how much of what's broadcast is total rubbish, but that's a value judgement.

However, I can also see a looming problem with increased mobile spectrum/speeds. Mobile devices will increasingly start using streaming and p2p services, which will lead to more congestion and the need for more bandwidth. Already a bittorrent client is in development for the Android platform...

Android already has torrent apps.
baudrunner
1 / 5 (1) Feb 29, 2012
11 million broadcast viewers is not a few.

The FCC should consider the quality of broadcast content, which is much higher than social networking content anyway you cut it. We are going to surrender NOVA and NCIS and Law and Order and all that great programming just so that kids can text garbage and send questionable images?

I made my own HDTV antenna and bought a cheap converter so I don't have to pay for cable. I don't want to pay for cable. Watching commercials is payment enough, and they're not going away.
Feldagast
not rated yet Feb 29, 2012
They already did this when they converted Air broadcast to digital. the auction if I recall didn't do as well as they had hoped.

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