The Democracy Papers
For more broadcast choice, innovation
A large and powerful swath of public airwaves that could transform U.S. communications goes on the auction block today. The auction has the potential to create a new option for broadband.
A large and powerful swath of public airwaves that could transform U.S. communications goes on the auction block today.
The auction has the potential to create a new option for broadband. The market is almost exclusively held by a few cable and telecommunications companies. The prospect of 700 MHz of spectrum going toward creating another competitive broadband provider should be exciting. But the auction of public airwaves could easily turn into a giveaway to the few cable and telephone companies that dominate the broadband market.
The powerful spectrum became available because Congress mandated broadcasters switch television signals from analog to digital by 2009. The spectrum is not being auctioned off in one piece. Congress set aside a big section of the spectrum for public safety.
Even so, companies such as AT&T are expected to be active in the auction, and could scoop up a number of regional spectrum blocks to patch together a national system.
The auction has been shaken up by the recent demise of Front-line, the only company to openly pursue the public-safety block. If Frontline had followed through, it would have been able to offer broadband nationally, and build the public-safety system on the same spectrum.
Frontline's exit has created a lot of doubt. If the $1.33 billion reserve price is not met for this block of spectrum, the Federal Communications Commission, the entity running the auction, could potentially give the block to the highest bidder, or re-auction it without the public-interest requirements currently attached to any sale.
The FCC needs to stand firm and not change the bidding requirements. The FCC has already dimmed the possibilities of breaking the cable and telephone broadband duopoly.
Can the auction create another powerful broadband provider? No one outside the process will know until the private auction is finished sometime in the next months.
Let's hope a vigorous competition makes for a meaningful communications conduit that will allow for more consumer choice and innovation.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.