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Debate Over Spectrum Gets Nasty

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The spectrum allocation debate on Capitol Hill is one of those issues most people would rather leave to the pocket-protector brigade. But throw in a big broadcaster lobby worried about its digital future and an administration hell-bent on getting more spectrum from broadcasters for wireless broadband, and things get more interesting.

It started last week, when Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski used his speech commemorating the one-year anniversary of the National Broadband Plan as an opportunity to try to knock down the idea—promoted by broadcasters who don’t like giving up any of their part of the airwaves—that there isn’t really a looming spectrum crunch, but a problem of some companies sitting on a large, unused stock of it.

"That some licensees, such as cable and wireless companies, are just sitting on top of or 'hoarding' unused spectrum that could really solve that problem . . . That's just not true," Genachowski said. "It is not hoarding if a company paid millions or billions of dollars for spectrum at auction and is complying with the FCC's build-out rules," he added.

Wireless companies, which are salivating over the opportunity to expand their businesses,
chimed in. In a joint letter to the leaders of the House and Senate Commerce Committees, the Consumer Electronics Association and the CTIA, a wireless industry trade group, called the hoarding argument "the latest desperate attempt by the broadcast industry to deflect attention from the looming national spectrum crisis."

"If [the] NAB would like to have a discussion about warehousing spectrum, it should first look inward," wrote Steve Largent, president and CEO of CTIA, and Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the CEA.

Broadcasters, who argue that there should be a comprehensive inventory of spectrum before the FCC starts reallocating it, shot back. "When top Time Warner Cable and Dish Network executives are quoted in respected publications stating that they have no plans to build out spectrum, it's hard to conclude that warehousing is not occurring," said Dennis Wharton, executive vice president of the National Association of Broadcasters. ”Verbatim quotes are stubborn things."