Is Broadcast TV about to be killed? [Telecom]

The following letter was written by James Edwin Whedbee, M.Ed., owner of KZJW-LD (low-power digital), a broadcast station licensed to Bledsoe, Texas. KZJW-LD originates some programming, but for most if its broadcast day, it retransmits KENW, the PBS affiliate of Eastern New Mexico University.

I received this message because I am member of the Society of Broadcast Engineers Chapter 105, Houston. The message was forwarded to all chapter members by the Chief Engineer of the Houston Univision Radio station.

Perhaps Bill Horne's predictions about the death of broadcast television will come true after all, notwithstanding my assertions to the contrary. Nevertheless, the NAB still holds enormous power over Congress, and its power will be even greater if the Republicans take the House this fall.

Anyway, here's the letter:


Dear Friends and Family:

This will be the first time I publicly discuss the amounts of money I frequently donate to the Democratic Party or its candidates. For a man of modest means, it is considerable. It is the first time I discuss it because I want those Democrats here on Facebook who count themselves as my friends to consider what my support or continuing support means to them. Many of us have friends in Washington, D.C. whom apparently don't realize when the wool is being pulled over their eyes or don't care, and that's what I feel requires discussion.

Right now pending before the Federal Communications Commission (445 12th Street, SW, Washington, DC 20554) in GN Docket No. 09-51 is the current Chairman's so-called National Broadband Plan. The Chairman of the FCC, the Hon. Julius Genachowski, is a Democrat. He was brought into the FCC as an attorney for a previous Chairman, Mr. Reed Hundt. He also was a 'protege' of sorts under Vice President Al Gore. Finally, before being appointed Chairman of the FCC himself, he worked as a staffer of Senator Chuck Schumer, D-NY. His pedigree in the party notwithstanding, Chairman Genachowski seems to support a clearly anti-democratic approach to managing the electromagnetic spectrum.

Before 2009, you watched your televisions on analog TV sets. For those of you with converter boxes, you still do but the converter box takes the digital signal and changes it to an analog picture for you to view. Here in the Central Plains, our over-the-air television stations are our lifelines during inclement weather-particularly if you've ever had your satellite television or cable TV go out during a storm. Over-the-air TV broadcasters were made some promises that you may not know about. Let's begin with this one: if you 'give back' your analog channel, you may 'keep' your digital channel. Sounds like a fair exchange of things of value, yes? So, we did. Rightfully, each TV station owner in the USA has a right to the digital TV channel on which those lifeline weather signals are broadcast. That promise was made to us in the 1996 Telecommunications Act, whose principal proponent is rumored to be no other than Vice President Al Gore.

After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001, the 9/11 Commission Report recommended establishing a Public Safety Band in the vicinity of

700 MHz to protect our nation by providing better communications interoperability for firefighters, police, and other first-responders and national security stakeholders. Just one thing: 700 MHz belonged to TV Broadcasters before 9/11. Nevertheless, because we're a patriotic bunch, TV Broadcasters relocated TV stations - at considerable expense mind you - so that our nation's first response teams could have TV Channels 52-69. In exchange, our relocated TV stations were 'given' TV Channels 14-51 with assurances that we were done at June 2009.

Two promises made: we'd get to 'keep' our digital channels and our allocation between TV Channel 14 (470 MHz) and TV Channel 51 (698 MHz) would be unmolested. For all intents and purposes, the United States Government under Democrats and Republicans promised us spectrum between

470-698 MHz in exchange for our cooperation. We gave the cooperation. Now comes the a new FCC Chairman and his National Broadband Plan wherein he envisions taking TV Channels 31-51 and auctioning those channels to wireless telecommunications firms like Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, Google Inc., et al. It is suggested somehow that in these auctions, the new licensees would 'own' and be able to 'lease' their spectrum for wireless broadband. Mind you, TV stations can ALREADY lease unused digital spectrum to these same companies under our regulatory authority (47 CFR 73.624 and 74.790). We MIGHT get to share in the proceeds of any auction of OUR spectrum that the FCC Chairman's plan envisions taking from us.

Now, here's the rub. International Treaty and specifically the ITU World Radiocommunication Conferences from 1978 to 2007, as adopted by the USA and ratified in the Senate, allocates 470-698 MHz to broadcasters. Combine that with the promises TV broadcasters would get to 'keep' digital licenses after converting away from analog signals, and I think it is reasonable to suggest we OWN that spectrum. However, just like the United States Government's past history of vitiating treaties with Native American Tribal Governments and taking what they owned in the way of land and rights, with one stroke of the pen, FCC Chairman Genachowski intends to take analogous action against TV Broadcasters and remove them from the 'reservation' of TV Channels 31-51, 'repack' TV broadcasters, and cram us into TV Channels 14-30 ("Spectrum Analysis: Options for Broadcasting OBI Technical Paper No. 3." FCC, 2010). Mind you, every credible broadcast engineer in existence has told the FCC that is not even technically feasible to do! (Society of Broadcast Engineers, June

25, 2010; Doug Lung: "FCC Spectrum Analysis Doesn't Add Up," TV Technology Magazine-June 18, 2010.)

For their part, the wireless broadband telcos - and particularly those giants aforementioned - have promised the FCC huge returns on spectrum auctions if the FCC takes our spectrum (June 2010: T-Mobile in ex parte disclosure to FCC Secretary in 09-51) with the 'threat' that the FCC won't make as much in these auctions if the predetermined spectrum in question isn't reallocated to them. While I won't go so far as to suggest that this amounts to extortion, it gets right up there next to it! Mind you, the FCC says it will 'share' some undisclosed proportion of those auction fees generated with 'voluntarily' displaced broadcasters...isn't that like sharing a bribe to convince someone to look the other way?

That's the carrot; here's the stick: those broadcasters unwilling to 'give up' spectrum in exchange for sharing some minority interest in auction proceeds will be hit with 'spectrum utilization fees' so they wind up paying to use the spectrum that might otherwise have been auctioned. No doubt, some arbitrary amount up to and including the amount some unknown economist at the FCC assigns as the amount it should have received at auction will be the spectrum fee! Now, for anyone who has been to an auction, either in person or on E-Bay will tell you that you can't 'assign' a value to what an item will bring at auction! Don't believe me? Senators Kerry and Snowe just yesterday (July 19, 2010) introduced into the U.S. Senate, a draft bill (styled,``Spectrum Measurement and Policy Reform Act'') proposing to authorize the FCC to do precisely that in conjunction with this "National Broadband Plan."

Now, we get to the crux of my position as a TV Broadcaster and as a Democrat. The U.S. Constitution, and particularly the First Amendment of the same, says: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." The freedom of speech or press is intended to be encumbered by Congress with 'spectrum fees.' The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says, in pertinent part: "...nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." I can't think that the liberty and property being promised that we'd get to 'keep' a digital license in exchange for an analog license can be squared with snatching that spectrum away. I certainly feel we have a great case under this same amendment for suing the federal government for condemnation by regulation if the National Broadband Plan and accompanying Senate Bill are adopted.

Democrats, I am a donor. I am also a TV Broadcaster. These should NOT hold me in special regard, but reality is that donors tend to be heard, so please also hear this: I am a teacher and a veteran. I have contributed my entire adult life to service of this nation. I am the voice, in small part, of this nation. You cannot - in good faith - promise something can be kept and then proceed after two election cycles to give it to somebody else...that's not just a lie, it's a fraud. You cannot take a bribe and give us a share in it and think we can, with a clear conscience, look aside for you to commit a lie or a fraud. Democrats, as a donor I have the right to grant or refrain from granting my further goodwill to our party as I see fit. A fellow Democrat, Mr. Genachowski at the FCC, needs to be set straight. I would ask that you join my voice in expressing to him and those misguided Senators he has misled the error of his ways. We must also point out to the remaining Democratic Senators that TV Broadcasters can ALREADY DO everything that National Broadband Plan wants to do without violating any International Treaties, any of the U.S. Constitution, and without stealing anybody's spectrum rights. Democrats, I will hold my party accountable if Mr. Genachowski is permitted to continue in his misguided efforts. He has been told the many alternatives he has which would be legally and technically valid, and this party - we - must convince him to act in those alternatives.

Best wishes,

James Edwin Whedbee, M.Ed.

Commissioner of Deeds to the State of Missouri for the State of New Hampshire

Owner: Digital TV-23, KZJW-LD

July 20, 2010


***** Moderator's Note *****

ObTelecom: The price of implementing {4|5|n}G mobile service is affected by the amount and "quality" of radio spectrum carriers must obtain.

Bill Horne Moderator

Reply to
Neal McLain
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This seems part of the modern debate about how some convenient technology that has been around for - in reality - a short time suddenly becomes a "right" that some - usually a vested interest - demands be protected for all time.

Why does a limited resource (like radio spectrum) become a "right" for some people who use it when a case might be able to be made that potentially far more people may be able to utilise it in the future - what about their "rights"?

I really dislike the use of terms like "rights" when it comes to these technological debates, it just seems to pander to the (usually) overblown sense of entitlement that so many people seem to have these days. Shouldn't powerful terms like "rights" be reserved for really important things rather than being hijacked by narrow, selfish interests in areas that really are trivial when compared to most other things in our lives?

I'm glad that 100 years ago those that used spark driven morse generators didn't demand the "right" to all the spectrum they splattered with their technology in the face of newer voice radio services.....

-- Regards, David.

David Clayton Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Knowledge is a measure of how many answers you have, intelligence is a measure of how many questions you have.

***** Moderator's Note *****

There is an old saying in Paris: "The law, in all of its majesty, forbids rich and poor alike from sleeping under the bridges that cross the Seine".

Bill Horne Moderator

Reply to
David Clayton

How to allocate spectrum has been quite an issue for quite a while. The market approach was apparently first suggested in 1951. About 50 years later, I wrote a paper looking at this again. I like the idea of an auction of fixed term spectrum leases. Right now, licensees have a term on their licenses where they release any claim to use of the spectrum beyond the term of the license. But, also, the law provides for a renewal expectancy. So, it's a mess. My paper is at

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. It's called "Spectrum For Sale or Rent".


Reply to

I for one take this reply as a very meaningful and meritorious response to the initial post.

Reply to


Mr. Clayton makes excellent points throughout his post.

I did not care for Mr. Whedbee's letter. He seems to spend more time rambling on about irrelevant partisan-political issues than he does on his specific complaint. I don't care if he's a donor, a Democrat, nor do I care about the background of FCC officials.

My impression is that he feels the government made a committment to him, as a broadcast television station owner, then later broke that committment, causing him to suffer substantial economic loss.

To me, that raises the following issues:

1) Did the government in fact create a binding contract with him? If so, he would be entitled to damages for the government's actions.

However, if the government only made a vague promise--which may be the case--he does not have much of a case. For example, say a house developer buys up land and builds a community in anticipation of an announced freeway, but the freeway ends up being cancelled and nobody wants the developer's houses. Does the developer have a claim with the government? I would say not. In this case, I'm not sure if the govt truly made a binding committment to the broadcasters.

2) The second issue is the rights and responsibilities of those who receive scarce resources from the government, in this case, a broadcast frequency. Since the resource is scarce, the business person is protected from the normal currents of of competition - another business can't open up next door because there isn't frequency space. (The same would apply to say a food concession at a ballpark or national park.) In return for the concession, businesses typically give up traditional rights, and broadcasters have to submit to FCC regulations beyond what say a newspaper had to comply with. In this case, changing technical requirements might be part of the price he pays for having a concession.

However, somewhere I think it said this fellow was a "low power" transmitter, which is one of the newly created broadcasters. If that is true, I have less sympathy for him--he mentioned the "lifeline" task of broadcasters, but I don't think a low power broadcaster meets that need.

3) Let's remember the govt does things that devalue our properties without compensation. For example, say you own a roadside business. The govt builds a new bypass road and your business suffers. You have no recourse or claim. Even if say the govt adds a median strip making it harder for people to turn into your business--AFAIK you have no recourse.

4) I'm also less sympathetic because as a consumer I'm forced to spend my money to keep up with the world. I have cassette tapes, video tapes, and phonograph records. All of which are essentially obsolete so I'll have to spend money either converting them to a new medium or repurchase what I already paid for. (For the audio stuff it probably will be cheaper and easier to simply download replacement songs).

For the video, I understand whatever replaced videotape does not allow for permanent records. That is, I'm told that one can record a TV show on a device's hard drive, but one can not copy that to a DVD for permanent storage the way I do now with video tapes. (Please correct me if I'm wrong).

[public replies, please]
Reply to

This is a typical argument from someone who has no argument: Quote a twisted version of the Constitution (the Constitution says nothing about any right to operate a TV station), and then throw in stuff about being a veteran and a contributor to the Democratic party.

Fact is that technology is changing. The people (aka the marketplace) have spoken and they are moving quickly toward wireless Internet. In my circle of friends (techies, Burning Man artists, board game players, web site developers, circus performers, jazz musicians) very few people even own TVs. But they are all connected to the Internet in one form or another, either with handheld devices, laptops, or desktops or all three.

I'm getting a little tired of hearing old-school people whine about how something should be preserved when the evidence is that the world is moving away from their obsolete technology. And I'm no 20-something. I grew up in a world where AM radio was king. But that was then and this is now.

Reply to
David Kaye

And yet, the guy owns an LPTV which spends most of its broadcast day relaying another station.

Reply to
David Kaye

With respect, David, you have an extremely unusual circle of friends. San Francisco is not representative of America.


Reply to
Garrett Wollman

If an argument is made that a new service will actually provide more benefit to the public than an old service did, then I am for it.

However, since the Reagan administration changes, the FCC has looked almost entirely about whether a new service will provide more financial benefit to the FCC, rather than whether it will benefit the public.

As a consequence, many people, myself among them, become very very suspicious when the FCC begins talking about shutting down old services and allocating their bandwidth to new ones. We demand somewhat stronger arguments than might otherwise be necessary.

Folks who recall things like big chunks of the 220 MHz ham radio band being sold off to UPS, who then decided not to use it, might be very suspicious of the actual benefit to the public of new services.

Right now there is a huge demand for bandwidth for wireless data services, but if you look at the actual demand and the amount of bandwidth actually in the spectrum, there's a huge disconnect. You could shut down all broadcast TV and move all the channels over to wireless services and it would hardly begin to fill the demand. Consequently I am not sure that doing this is really the solution. I'm not sure I know what the solution is, mind you.


Reply to
Scott Dorsey

Yes, he has a piece of paper from the government called a station license, which is a binding contract.

The problem is that before Reagan, the rights and responsibilities were all enumerated in part 73 and everybody knew what they were, but now most of them seem to be gone and the notion that a station is actually supposed to provide a public service to viewers or listeners and that they can lose their license if they don't... that is gone.

No, LPTV has been around for many, many years. And there are still some Class D low-power FM stations that predate the elimination of the Class D license in 1978. Low power broadcasting is nothing new.


Reply to
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