Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Radio Industry's Quiet Theft of Spectrum

David Bollier is back on the subject of the Radio Industry's Quiet Theft of Spectrum, whcih, if I remember correctly he also covered in passing in Chapter 10 of his book Silent Theft.

"Watch closely and you will see the legerdemain by which the rhetoric of “free markets” and “deregulation” are used to justify another private appropriation of our common assets. This shell game has become so routine that mainstream journalists hardly bestir themselves to take notice, probably because they too have accepted the “Washington consensus” about “free markets,” and see nothing amiss. It doesn't help that most mainstream news organizations are themselves parts of media conglomerates and have little interest in shining a spotlight on their corporate parents.

I speak of the looming government giveaway of spectrum rights to radio broadcasters. This little-noticed FCC policy decision could take untold billions of dollars of equity value from the public’s portfolio – the airwaves – and give them directly to the radio industry. Why mess with all that investment and competition stuff when political lobbying to skew public policy can be so much more efficacious? Kudos to J.H. Snider, Research Director of the Wireless Future Program at the New America Foundation for his work in tracking and explaining this issue. He recently released an impressive report on the FCC’s imminent decision to give radio stations a free “multicasting dividend.”

Currently radio broadcasters have “unicast rights” in their spectrum – the right to send out a single signal of programming. But radio stations aspire to make a transition from analog to digital transmissions in order to take advantage of new technologies that enable them to cram dozens of signals onto the same amount of spectrum – a practice known as “multicasting.” This capability has made radio spectrum licenses worth a whole lot more, and stations want to claim this windfall for themselves."

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