Zero to 700 and back
Everyone is excited about the availability of 700MHz channels. The band made available by the relocation of TV channels 60-69 is causing a great buzz throughout the industry as land mobile guys rub their collective hands together. But before the drool begins to pool, let’s examine what conditions the FCC has created for the future use of this spectrum.
The present occupants of the band are TV broadcasters. For all of you who are unschooled in the way of politics, “TV broadcaster” is Washingtonian-speak for “sacred cow.” So there won’t be anyone moo-ving from those channels for a while. The votes simply aren’t in Congress or within the FCC to make it happen.
Okay-one vote in Congress did get this migration moving. U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was instrumental in establishing that broadcasters do not always walk on water, that the sun does not, in fact, rise and set only upon those persons who transmit Laverne and Shirley, and that sometimes, in a strange and wonderful world, the American public might indeed be served by telling the broadcasters to shut up.
It was this revelation regarding emperors and their transparent togs that caused the broadcasters to lose this band in the first place. Sen. McCain and other key congressional types thought that the spectrum could be better used for land mobile purposes-public safety, in particular. So, they took it away from the WB network wannabes and gave it to the fire and police and other public servants throughout the country. Or did they?
Oh sure, there was a clarion call and a “Huzzah!” as all gathered to see the transfer of power from broadcaster to burgomaster, but did that ceremony really mark the passing of title?
It was mainly “show” and no “go.” The broadcasters will leave the band, of course, but not until the year 2006 or until someone crosses their outstretched palms with millions in payola.
Now that’s a public interest issue The land mobile folks ran back to the FCC and asked the commission to create relocation rules to ease the recalcitrant broadcasters off the band prior to 2006 (or whenever). But the FCC is siding with the broadcasters on this one. The commission said, in effect, the broadcasters can stay because the public interest would not be served by a forced relocation of the UPN folks onto alternative spectrum.
To put this into perspective, let’s look over the FCC’s relocation record:
* When PCS came to market, the FCC decided that the public interest would be served by forced relocation of public safety licensees from the 2GHz microwave channels. That was OK because PCS had a superior right-a right that had been bought and paid for with billions of bucks to the U.S. Treasury. And besides, there was some nifty spectrum at 5.6GHz where the P.S. systems could go.
APCO didn’t think that the FCC had done right by its members, and it appealed the FCC’s relocation decision. The Court said, “Forget it APCO. If the FCC’s got spectrum for your members to move onto, and PCS is willing to pay the freight, off you go.” So, public safety was given a “Trail of Tears” to 5.6GHz, and PCS got the band.
* The next relocation decision came at 800MHz, with the consolidation of the SMR marketplace by Nextel Communications. (There continues to be a case pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals brought by Small Business in Telecommunications regarding the upper-800MHz auction.) At the time, the FCC decided that it was more important for it and Nextel to violate the letter and spirit of 100 years of antitrust legislation by forcing relocation than to allow local operators quiet enjoyment of their licensed systems. Oh yes, and the local operators’ end users could also go to the devil. After all, it was in the public interest.
Now the FCC is “considering the public interest” by allowing broadcasters to hold up the same wheels of progress that rolled over local SMR operators. The FCC must consider whether the public needs the integrated use of telecommunications at 700MHz by fire, local government, police, road maintenance, transportation departments, county, state and city licensees. Or whether, on balance, the public would be better served by being able to see reruns of Welcome Back, Kotter before and after the WWF Smackdown.
Guess what? Smackdown’s got the power and the FCC is telling public safety and guardband managers to be patient-real patient. It’s only five years, after all. And the broadcasters were there first, and the land mobile guys are going to get to use the spectrum for a long, long time, and ..
What’s good for the goose. Now, for all of you who have not been paying attention, let’s recap what we have learned about the FCC’s relocation policies:
Rule No. 1 – If you pay for the spectrum, the FCC is more likely to give eviction notices to the incumbent operators.
Rule No. 2 – If the incumbents are local operators or small municipalities, these incumbents are more likely to be tossed out than bigger companies.
Rule No. 3 – Public safety is not the same as public interest because public safety doesn’t have to pay for spectrum.
Rule No. 4 – If relocation will cause the band to be held in the hands of fewer licensees, the FCC is more likely to allow forced relocation.
Rule No. 5 – If a broadcaster has it, we ain’t takin’ it away from them unless it’s by gunpoint-and even then we need a large caliber.
Based on these simple rules, you can guess what the FCC will do the next time someone asks about relocation. Oh, go ahead-make your prediction. Amaze and delight friends at cocktail parties with your relocation acumen. Win a relocation pool in your office. The uses are endless for the guy or gal who has learned that when it comes to the federal government, think jaded…jade…green…the color of money. Ahhhh.