Spectrum Spats: Chatty Cars, Busy Broadcast Airwaves
It shouldn't come as a surprise that wireless operators view spectrum as a scarce and precious commodity. That's why there's always dissension over who gets it and for what purposes.
The latest spat is between the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) , over the FCC's plan to sell wireless operators TV airways to free up the spectrum for 4G LTE next year. (See FCC Could Block Sprint/T-Mobile Spectrum JV.)
The NAB claims the FCC is hurting the business of those stations that don't participate in the auction by reducing their coverage area anyway. The FCC's rule allowing the change would cause viewership to shrink "after the FCC 'repacks' TV stations into a shrunken TV band," the group writes, in a petition for review filed with the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
Those stations whose airwaves are sold have the choice of going out of business or moving to another channel that uses fewer airwaves. The NAB estimates it could cost $500 million to repack into a new frequency. The Wall Street Journal reports that the FCC did set aside $1.75 billion to cover the broadcasters' expenses for moving their signals, so an increase to the pot could help the two avoid court.
There is the potential for another spectrum spat bubbling in the connected car space, as well. Regulators said this week that vehicle-to-vehicle communications should be required in future cars so they can talk to each other in order to avert collisions. Federal transportation officials suggest that the technology could prevent 592,000 crashes per year and save more than 1,000 lives. (See If These Cars Could Talk and Telefónica: Safety Is Top Connected Car 'App'.)
It's a pretty compelling argument, but the disagreement comes, first of all, over whether the technology – which would add $100 to $200 to the cost of the car – would be mandated; and secondly, over the 5.9GHz spectrum it would use to send data between vehicles.
Technology companies such as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) have joined forces with cable operators Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Charter Communications Inc. and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) to push to share more spectrum for WiFi, including in the 5.9GHz band. These companies formed the WifiForward group earlier this year for that reason, but automakers worry that other usage in the band will interfere with their safety goals. (See Rival MSOs, Tech Rivals Unite on WiFi and WiFiForward Presses for 5GHz .)
"More than ever, we need to preserve the space on the spectrum that these safety systems rely on to operate," John Bozzella, president and CEO of Global Automakers, said in a statement. "There is no better use of this spectrum than to save lives."
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading