White House wants more bandwidth

Marketplace Staff Jun 28, 2010


Tess Vigeland: Who owns the public airwaves? Well you do, of course. Sort of. The government licenses those frequencies to broadcasters and wireless companies. But they’ve got extra bandwidth they’re not using. And the government would like some of it back, so it can more than double what’s currently available to us as customers.

Our senior business correspondent Bob Moon has the story.

Bob Moon: The Obama Administration sees dollar signs, long before details of the plan have been hashed over. Economic advisor Larry Summers told a Washington audience today that reallocation of this TV and radio spectrum will help create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Larry Summers: The knowledge that spectrum is going to be available on a larger scale, will spur all kinds of innovation, will spur all kinds of production — even before the spectrum becomes available. And so I would expect the benefits to start from today.

Maybe not, if the broadcast industry has its way. Spokesman Dennis Wharton made it clear that about the only thing National Association of Broadcasters likes about the plan is that it’s voluntary.

Dennis Wharton: We want to be constructive with the administration and help them achieve their goal of rolling out broadband, but it doesn’t have to be at the expense of free and local television.

The broadcasters point out they’ve already given up a chunk of bandwidth the wireless industry still isn’t using. And they have programming plans of their own plans for the digital spectrum. Meantime, consumer advocates question whether more frequencies will simply be doled out to big wireless carriers with the deepest pockets to bid for it, like AT&T and Verizon.

Chris Riley speaks for the advocacy group Free Press, which wants limits to spur competition.

Chris Riley: Yes, we’ll get investment. Yes, we’ll get people being hired to help build out this infrastructure. But the more competitive the mobile broadband market is, the more investment we will get, the more people will be hired, and at the same time, the lower prices consumers will pay for these services, and the better quality that they’ll get.

Details of the plan could emerge by the fall, but political experts say this battle could drag on for years.

I’m Bob Moon for Marketplace.

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