Telecom Timeout

Apr 15 2010   2:24PM GMT

Broadcaster joint venture to deliver mobile device content is no accident

Kate Gerwig Kate Gerwig Profile: Kate Gerwig

Sometimes telecom’ers forget that the broadcast industry is also subject to FCC whims, um, I mean regulations, and that it spends as much time trying to pacify the agency beast and positioning with the media as telecom carriers do. My case in point is the new joint venture of a dozen major broadcasters — including Fox, NBC, Gannett and News Corp. — that will deliver live and on-demand mobile programming by pooling their existing spectrum.

Who could disagree with this noble effort? Delivering programming to mobile devices is a good line of business, but the venture isn’t all about that. What’s really going on is that is one of the FCC’s proposals in its national broadband plan is to take back as much as 40% of broadcast spectrum because wireless needs it. This makes broadcasters cringe, of course, but they’re taking the high road on looking cooperative instead. Historically, it works out better if the market in question suggests a plan rather than being ordered to do so, and in the process they look like concerned citizens. The broadcasters said they will provide the spectrum and kick in the content, marketing, and cash investments to drive its growth. Really good citizens.

Are broadcasters against any FCC plan to reclaim spectrum to instead help wireless broadband? TOTALLY. Broadcasters would rather use any additional spectrum for more digital and HD channels. But the FCC’s saber-rattling has them making a good show of extreme interest in mobile TV. Would this be good for broadcasters, wireless operators and mobile users? You betcha. Broadcasting to mobile devices would take some of the heat off wireless network congestion and mobile users want more content.

It could be a win-win. But will it make the FCC forget its spectrum reclamation project? Doubtful. Democratic FCCs are notoriously activist, and I don’t think one joint venture will make it all go away.

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