>From ‘best’ to ‘luckiest’ to ‘richest’
Turnabout Some specific radio frequencies are shared among many licensees in a given area. The government, which issues licenses, isn’t faced with choosing among multiple applicants to use such frequencies. It has delegated the task, right or wrong, to free enterprise in the form of trade associations.
Other radio frequencies (and TV channels) are assigned to only one license-seeker for its exclusive use in a given location or area. Once, when the availability of these frequencies drew multiple license-seekers, the government used to choose the “best” applicant based on a complex set of qualifications in what was called a comparative hearing. When it discarded that approach, then the government would choose the “lucky” applicant at random, with a lottery. Currently, the government chooses the “richest” applicant with an auction.
(Actually, sometimes the comparative hearings chose the “richest” one, too, but the money spent went to lawyers. With auctions, the money goes to the U.S. Treasury_and lawyers. No objections have been heard from lawyers.)
I’ve watched this evolution in license-granting from “best” to “luckiest” to “richest” take place over the past three decades. I’ve been interested, and sometimes dismayed, to see how several groups of radio-frequency (RF) spectrum users have fared in this effort by the government to simplify its job (no matter how difficult it makes things for members of the public that government is supposed to serve.)
Hardly any user wants to bid for RF spectrum. The process is extraordinarily complicated, besides being expensive. If a user can effectively trumpet claims of improving public safety or other benefits to the public, it can win an exemption from auctions. It also helps if the user does not resell use of the spectrum.
Take police, fire and emergency medical services, for example. Their connection with public safety is clear, and they are exempt from spectrum auctions. Take radio amateurs, for another example. Some amateur operators engage directly in projects that improve public safety and welfare. For this and other reasons, including the fact that they do not resell or otherwise make money with their spectrum access, the amateur radio service is exempt.
Take commercial and private mobile radio services (CMRS and PMRS), for example. Within CMRS, there is a growing trend for specialized mobile radio (SMR) system operators to provide communications services to public safety agencies. Regardless, they now must acquire their licenses through auction_or by purchasing rights from auction winners.
Within PMRS, efforts are under way to persuade the government to lease spectrum for many location-specific private radio purposes instead of auctioning it for use in large areas. Trade associations want to help applicants to engineer applications that are not mutually exclusive (that do not use the same frequency in the same area as other applicants) to help them to avoid auctions.
Last, but not least, consider broadcasters. With pleas as to their service to public safety (broadcasting during emergencies and disasters) and other services to the public (news and public affairs programs), broadcasters have persuaded the government to exempt them from auctions.
On Nov. 25, 1997, the FCC proposed new rules to implement new authority to auction commercial broadcast licenses_authority given to it by Congress. The final rules may be retroactive to cover all mutually exclusive applications that will have been pending when the rules are adopted.
The political power in broadcasting is in television. Virtually all of the pending applications affected by the proposed rule are for radio stations. Radio broadcasters don’t have enough clout to stop the new rules. TV broadcasters won’t defend radio broadcasters.
One thing more: The proposed auctions do not affect digital television. The FCC is prepared to grant license applications, one to each TV station, for one additional 6MHz channel for digital television. The applications are not mutually exclusive, so they are not subject to auction.
(Attempts by broadcasters to use the digital channels for non-broadcast, revenue-generating purposes might be “taxed” at a high rate by the FCC. Their analog channels are expected to be taken back, but probably not before 2006.)
Applying auctions first to mutually exclusive applications might be the camel’s nose in the tent, though. If the proposal passes, the FCC might take a run at TV broadcasters, especially with backing from a spectrum-money-hungry Congress that wants sales prices numbered in billions of dollars. TV broadcasters will be counting on their applications for free digital TV channels being granted before the auction camel steps all the way inside.
Transitions We say goodbye to our senior associate editor, Ellen Jensen, who has become a staff writer for Wireless Review. Ellen joined us about five years ago. Her skills as a writer, editor and computer wizard have benefited readers, contributing writers, advertisers and co-workers alike. Not to mention that working with her was a joy. I know she’ll impress her new friends at Wireless Review as much as she impressed us.
Nikki Chandler, whom Ellen recruited as editorial assistant a year ago, moves up to associate editor. A graduate of the University of Kansas, Nikki started with Intertec Publishing two years ago as an intern with Transmission & Distribution World magazine. The high quality of her work was obvious. Through a clever ploy that allowed us to have an early choice of job applicants last year, we were fortunate to be able to make an offer to Nikki before other Intertec magazines could. She has fulfilled our expectations, to say the least, and we congratulate her on her promotion.
Joining us as associate art director is Scott Dolash, who combines experience in print media, advertising and illustration to support the preparation of the magazine’s covers, page layouts, diagrams and illustrations. You’ll be seeing some of the Dolash touch before long. We say goodbye to our previous art director, Mike Knust, who has taken an assignment with two other Intertec magazines. Thanks, Mike, for a job well done.