The Great Spectrum Rip-Off

Don't believe Administration claims about spectrum reallocation.

January 24, 2006

2 Min Read
The Great Spectrum Rip-Off

5:30 PM -- Last weekend we bought a 32-inch flat-screen Sony TV, just in time to see the Denver Broncos get pasted by the surging Pittsburgh Steelers. The set was billed as "HD-ready," and I had to spend time explaining to my wife what that means and why HDTV is not here yet. I finally threw up my hands and said "It's because the TV networks don't want to get off their asses and go digital."

That was the subtext of the presentation last week at the Wireless Communications Association International (WCA) 's Symposium and Expo, in San Jose, Calif., by Michael Gallagher, the Bush administration official who heads the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Gallagher was there to boast about the Administration's "aggressive" efforts to free up spectrum for WiMax broadband wireless technology. In truth, the federal government has been about as aggressive on this front as the Broncos' defense was on Sunday.

Noting that he hopes -- hopes -- that TV broadcasters currently squatting in the valuable 700MHz band for their analog signals will free up that spectrum by 2008, Gallagher said the efforts to provide frequencies for WiMax signals will help the U.S. stay "one step ahead" of Asia and Europe when it comes to universal broadband deployment.

"Is he kidding?," asks Business Week blogger Cliff Edwards. "I can't imagine he hasn't been to places like Korea and France, where broadband is more widespread, an order of magnitude faster than even the top speeds offered by U.S. wireless carriers, and cheaper per megabyte."

Indeed, while the 3.5GHz band is the band set aside for broadband wireless access worldwide, that slice of spectrum remains out of bounds in the United States. The upcoming spectrum auctions are a welcome development, but the government's inability to hasten the move to digital TV is definitely slowing down the progress to the unwired, high-speed future.

"Oh, don't worry," the TV salesman told us, "they have to start offering high-def by the middle of this year."

Yeah, right. HD-ready, my ass.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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