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11/20/2009 7:22 AM  RssIcon

Prima facie, South Carolina spectrum lease could not have come at a worse time. While broadcasters fend off aggressive calls to give up TV spectrum to make way for broadband, South Carolina leases out its licenses for that very purpose. The state’s licenses belonged to its Educational TV organization, which for some reason had spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band--well out of TV territory. South Carolina’s been working on a deal with wireless and WiMax providers for months to make use of the spectrum. It just happened to come together at the precise moment that the attack on broadcast frequencies reached a fever pitch on Capitol Hill.

Yet South Carolina’s lease begs the question--why, if 2 GHz spectrum is adequate for broadband, is there such a hue and cry to wrench licenses away from broadcasters? Cost would be the obvious reason. Signals travel much more efficiently in the 700 MHz spectrum freed up by the DTV transition than in 2 GHz. GigaOm estimates that building a nationwide wireless network in the 700 band would cost around $2 billion versus $4 billion for PCS network at 1.9 Ghz. The primary reason for the cost differential is that the higher band requires roughly 10 times more cell towers to achieve the same coverage as one in the 700 MHz band.

Then again...

Clearwire and DigitalBridge got 1.59 GHz of bandwidth for $143 million for 30 years--around $90,000 per megahertz. Bidders shelled out $19.6 billion doled out for the 52 MHz auctioned off in the 700 MHz band--around $377 million per megahertz. That’s 4,189 times more than what Clearwire and DigitalBridge paid. So which broadband network would logically cost less to the subscriber? I wonder.

I also wonder which one will be built out first. It’s truly disingenuous to hammer for more broadband spectrum when what’s already been allocated to 4G wireless services has yet to be built out. It’s also delusional to believe that any commercial wireless provider is going to build out in remote areas if they haven’t done so already, which is why a singular nationwide broadband network seems to be an ill-conceived concept.

It’s an attractive concept, to be sure, from the perspective of a few regulatory resumes. But the approach is reminiscent of Yul Brenner’s Pharaoh. “So let it be written, so let it be done.” Not, “what is the most efficient, cost-effective and technically feasible way to bring everyone in the country online?” The first mode of operation launches immediately into justifications for itself, e.g., economic projections, social benefits, etc. The second asks right off the bat what’s the best way to reach these benefits.

An admittedly oversimplified comparison of South Carolina’s deal with the 700 MHz auction certainly doesn’t comprise a white paper on the topic of approach, but it’s unfortunately closer than the hyped being shoveled on Capitol Hill. A community-by-community approach to building out broadband might be the most logical, cost-effective way to achieve ubiquitous and reasonably secure access. It may not make one or two wireless providers unimaginably even more wealthy, but based on the government’s own mandate, that’s not the point.

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McAdams On: South Carolina’s Leased Spectrum

Deb writes: "The state’s licenses belonged to its Educational TV organization, which for some reason had spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band--well out of TV territory." That's spectrum allocated to ITFS—Instructional Television Fixed Service—originally intended to provide point to point or point to multi-point transmissions for educational institutions. The FCC changed rules in the 1990's so ITFS licensees could lease spectrum to "wireless cable" operators like WANT TV and others, who used the channels to provide pay-tv services to subscribers, and the ITFS owners gained income and sometimes new facilities. That was chronicled in an article published by Current.org, which follows public TV and Radio: http://www.current.org/tech/tech914w.html Telecom companies like MCI Worldcom and Sprint started snapping up the Wireless Cable providers, and in the case of WANT TV, eventually shut it down so it could re-purpose the ITFS spectrum for other uses. What happened later is outlined in this 2006 story on "Current" here: http://www.current.org/tech/tech0607itfs-ebs.shtml The article notes the telcom companies' acquisition of spectrum in the FCC's 1996 auctions... which IIRC is part of what led to broadcasters being bumped from their 2 GHz Newsgathering and Inter-City Relay facilities licensed as BAS (Broadcast Auxiliary Services.) The FCC rules-change for ITFS created a new name for the ITFS spectrum—Educational Broadband Service.—and opened up the uses for other than one-direction video/audio distribution allowed under ITFS. There's also a national organization for EBS licensees: http://www.nebsa.org/about_ebs.htm The page notes: "Educational Broadband Service or EBS is used to describe flexible use service, a specific band/block of microwave frequencies, licensed to educational institutions or non-profit educational organizations for uses that are designed to accommodate a variety of fixed, portable, and mobile services relating to education and instruction. Licensees can also lease excess capacity to other entities so long as they meet educational programming requirements This license can be used to provide educational content to schools and other educational locations using special transmission and reception equipment." NEBSA adds, "... you could develop a revenue source from making your excess capacity available to the commercial operator; or you could obtain other telecommunications services offered by that commercial operator in exchange for your excess capacity; or some combination of the above. The amount of services/revenue you may extract from this arrangement is based on a number of variables such as: your technology needs and plans, the size of your market, what services you choose to use, who the commercial operator may be, etc." "A commercial telecommunications company may be willing to build and maintain your licensed spectrum as part of the larger wireless broadband system they will be building in your community. In exchange for building and maintaining your system, they would want the ability to use your excess capacity for their business purposes. This type of arrangement can provide you with some new broadband capabilities as well as revenue. However, you will also have some responsibilities as a licensee." Hope this provides some illumination on what those SCETV "way out of TV spectrum" licenses were about... and how that fits into the spectrum use picture, today. Ted Langdell Marysville, CA

By on   11/27/2009 1:42 PM

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