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Broadcasters delay spectrum auction for at least year, but hey, they’re entitled

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Ten years isn’t so long. Unless you’re a dog. Or the Internet.

The possibility of converting prime spectrum from TV broadcasting to mobile broadband use has been pushed off another year. The FCC is delaying the planned auction of 600 MHz broadcast frequencies until 2016, instead of next summer.

It’ll take that long to sort out a lawsuit filed by the National Association of Broadcasters – the primary lobbying organisation for TV and radio station owners – according to the FCC

Earlier this week, the court issued a briefing schedule in which the final briefs are not due until late January 2015. Oral arguments will follow at a later date yet to be determined, with a decision not likely until mid-2015. We are confident we will prevail in court, but given the reality of that schedule, the complexity of designing and implementing the auction, and the need for all auction participants to have certainty well in advance of the auction, we now anticipate accepting applications for the auction in the fall of 2015 and starting the auction in early 2016.

In an odd sort of statement, the NAB claimed the delay isn’t its fault. The process should take a long time. Or something like that…

As NAB has said repeatedly, it is more important to get the auction done right than right now. Given its complexity, there is good reason Congress gave the FCC 10 years to complete the proceeding. We reject suggestions that our narrowly focused lawsuit is cause for delay.

Neither broadcasters nor mobile telecoms companies have shown universal enthusiasm for the auctions, which, it is assumed, would raise billions of dollars, some of which would compensate broadcasters for the transferred spectrum and the rest would pay for upgrading U.S. public safety networks.

But the mobile bandwidth crunch is not slowing down, and that’s a problem that will impact everyone’s prosperity and quality of life. Ten years is way too long to wait.

Broadcasters descending into madness, says CEA president

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Gary Shapiro, the president of the Consumer Electronics Association, has published a blistering attack on U.S. broadcasters, characterising their rear-guard opposition to new technology as the madness and nonsense of Alice’s Wonderland and urging congress to yank the licenses of television stations that act against the public interest. Not just in what they put on the air, but also their business practices. Shapiro points to a decision by CBS executives to suppress a news story that didn’t fall in line with their business goals…

Last year, CBS leadership reversed a decision by 40 CNET editors who voted the DISH Hopper Sling the best innovation at the 2013 International CES®. CBS and other broadcasters sued DISH over its ad-skipping Hopper, but so far the courts have said this feature is legal. Worse, CBS’s top executives ordered their editors to lie about removing the Hopper from the “Best of” CES list.

Other examples offered by Shapiro include broadcasters’ opposition to Aereo and cable and satellite blackouts resulting from fights over fees paid to retransmit their signals.

To say the least, it’s unlikely that congress will start revoking broadcast licenses. In fact, it’s authorised the FCC to spend billions of dollars to buy back channel space to clear spectrum for wireless broadband service. And Shapiro’s hyperbole has more than a touch of disingenuousness: he (correctly) brands the National Association of Broadcasters as the industry’s “lobbying arm” but neglects to mention that his organisation fills the same role for consumer electronics manufacturers.

Shapiro is dead on, though, in characterising broadcasters as essentially Luddites. The followers of Ned Ludd fought against new technology that was displacing the old technology they relied on to make a living. Television broadcasters had a good run – many fortunes were made in the past 65 years – but their hold on a national audience continues to slip, as does the number of people who watch TV channels over the air.

Broadcasters have every right to try block innovation that doesn’t serve their interests, just as everyone else has a right – a duty – to ignore them when possible and oppose them when not. That includes congress, courts and the FCC.