It’s Time To Kill Off Broadcast TV

No TVIt’s time to take over-the-air television out and shoot it.

You may have noticed that there’s a war over wireless airwaves. Electromagnetic spectrum is a finite resource and those that have want to keep, but many who have also want more. The pressure is particularly intense to expand the spectrum available for mobile data.

I’m going to sidestep the arguments about just how quickly the demand for wireless data is growing and whether carriers’ claims of a looming crisis are real or a ploy designed to lock up bandwidth and freeze out competitors. One way or another we’re going to need more spectrum over time and the question is where it is going to come from.

All the usable spectrum that exists is assigned to someone and all of it is jealously guarded. A great deal of it is controlled by government and we don’t know how, or even if, some of it is used. But prying it loose will be very, very difficult.

The richest block of spectrum available is being used for over-the-air television broadcasts.  The more than 200 MHz of prime bandwidth assigned to broadcast TV should and be put to a better use.

A half-measure is now underway to recover unused bits of the TV spectrum. Congress last year authorized “incentive auctions,” in which licensees can voluntarily give up unused spectrum and share in the proceeds when the government auctions it off for mobile data use. Even though broadcasters are being allowed to sell something they don’t actually own–channels were originally given to licensees to act as stewards of the “public convenience and necessity”—they have shown no great enthusiasm for the process. It’s far from clear how much spectrum will be freed through the process.

One thing we do know is that it is going to take a very long time. TV channels are assigned in 6 MHz slices and to make the freed spectrum more useful for data, the plan is to “repack” the surviving channels to create bigger contiguous blocks of bandwidth to be sold. But this means that some channels will have to be reassigned to new frequencies, a tedious business. The National Assn. of Broadcasters has never been very enthusiastic about the incentive auctions and is doing its best to delay the process.

Then whole process is too much trouble for too little gain. The better question is why we are dedicating any  spectrum to over-the-air TV. The fact is that relatively few people watch it. While there is some dispute over the numbers, it appears that about three-quarters  of Americans get their television primarily or exclusively by cable or satellite, whether as traditional scheduled programming or content delivered over-the-top on the internet. Cable or satellite service is available to virtually all of U.S. households, and the relatively few exceptions are most likely out of broadcast range as well. Dedicating so much bandwidth to serve and ever-shrinking audience seems foolish.

Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll see the end will come for over-the-air TV any time in the foreseeable future. The deck is too heavily stacked against it. Broadcasters, of course, hate the idea and they remain very powerful in Washington, less because of their campaign contributions than because they control the free exposure on local TV that candidates for Congress depend on. The Federal Communications Commission doesn’t like the idea either because without over-the-air broadcasts the commission would effectively lose all power to regulate television, and regulators do like to regulate. Some will object that free television is a basic right that must be preserved. If so, it is a right that fewer and fewer people seem to care about. If we decide as a matter of public policy that free or very low cost TV should be provided for the poor, it would not be hard to devise something like the (increasingly pointless) lifeline basic landline telephone service. The government could easily afford to pay for it out of the many billions of dollars that auctioning TV spectru would yield.

You need not be a very astute observer of th Washington scene to know that the fact that something should happen is no reason whatever to believe that it will. Still reusing all that underused TV spectrum is something worth dreaming about.

 

 

Published by

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.

1,894 thoughts on “It’s Time To Kill Off Broadcast TV”

      1. The big problem IMHO, is that the broadcast content over cable or dish is paid for twice. Either charge me a fee or make me watch commercials, or better yet give me the option. With OTA, I still at least get the option.

        Joe

        Ps, the option being between OTA and a service like iTunes.

    1. For whatever reason, the overwhelming majority of Americans choose not to avail themselves of this free service. And the use of 200 MHz of spectrum for considerably less than its best and highest value does impose costson society.

      1. Whats next, you’ll want the ham bands, frs, gmrs, murs for the cell phone spectrum. Cell phones are a complete waste of bandwidth. “I can watch a youtube video of dude picking his ass or play this cool crappy graphics game.” Sooner or later people will stop paying these ridicules data fees and move on to more productive things. I dropped cable, $150 saved per month. I dropped data on my phone, $100 saved per month. I don’t miss it either.

        1. “Cell phones are a complete waste of bandwidth”

          I disagree in part and agree in part. Have you or a loved one ever used a cell for an emergency?

          What I will agree with you on is that most of the bandwidth hogging features such as you mentioned with videos, are frivolous and it is this constant push to provide new features in order to sell new phones, that is driving the desire by mobile providers to gobble up spectrum.

          1. The use of a cellular phone doesn’t consume much of the spectrum when making a call. I am not against that aspect. But when you compare the amount of lives saved from emergency use vs the amount of death caused by distracted driving, I’d say we are better off with out them. Don’t forget before cellular phones, there was a pay phone every few hundred feet.

      2. “For whatever reason, the overwhelming majority of Americans choose not to avail themselves of this free service. ”

        A history reminder from one who lived thru it. In the 1980’s as TV programs were becoming saturated with commercials to the point of making shows unwatchable, cable came along with its original commercial-free programming which convinced folks to subscribe. Fast forward to 2016 and now all the non-movie cable channels are completely saturated as well. Every 5-7 minutes of content is interrupted by a 5-7 minute period of 30 second commercials. At this point, over the air HDTV is no worse that cable in terms of the ratio of content to commericals and the picture is actually better due to the video compression and encryption on cable.

    2. For whatever reason, the overwhelming majority of Americans choose not to avail themselves of this free service. And the use of 200 MHz of spectrum for considerably less than its best and highest value does impose costson society.

  1. I mostly agree. I don’t have cable or satellite service (too expensive!), but I only have 1 digital receiver. I don’t think I’ve turned on the TV in many months – possibly not at all in 2012. I watch almost all my TV on Hulu or CBS.com/TV.com, and what I miss, I just buy the DVDs when they come out – which I have plenty of money to do, thanks to the lack of a giant cable bill.

  2. I mostly agree. I don’t have cable or satellite service (too expensive!), but I only have 1 digital receiver. I don’t think I’ve turned on the TV in many months – possibly not at all in 2012. I watch almost all my TV on Hulu or CBS.com/TV.com, and what I miss, I just buy the DVDs when they come out – which I have plenty of money to do, thanks to the lack of a giant cable bill.

  3. There are several major problems with this line of thinking.

    First off is the technical aspects. The realitively long wave RF frequencies of broadcast TV are good for fixed digital TV, but not for mobile devices. This is the primary reason that Verizon is willing to divest itself of its A and B block 700 MHz spectrum inorder to get regulatory approval of its aquistion of the SpectrumCo AWS spectrum. The higher frequency shorter wavelength waves can be more efficiently broadcast and received by a cell phone sized devices, and cell sizes can be made smaller increasing the efficiency of spectrum reuse.

    Second, there is growing evidence that there are hundreds of MHz of commercial spectrum lying fallow that is simply being “warehoused.” (wasted inorder to create a fake crisis)

    Third is that free OTA digital TV is by far the best deal in TV. The best channel selection and picture quality for the best price. The only thing keeping the pay-TV industry going is the billions of dollars in bribe money (retransmission and advertising dollars) that they pay broadcasters not to put them out of business. Cable and satellite are the obsolete technologies with limited value.

    Fourth, free wireless broadcast TV has infinite social value because it is available to everyone who ever saved up the money to buy the inexpensive receiving equipment anywhere within the reach of the broadcast towers. No matter how much you subsidize it with government (tax) money (which includes spectrum sales) you will never be able to do that with satellite or cable.

    1. The idea that DTV frequencies are unusable for mobile data will come as a considerable surprise to AT&T and Verizon, which are building their LTE service on 700 MHz. There is a problem with the lower A block, but that is because of potential interference with broadcast channel 51.

      As I said in my second paragraph, I was deliberately staying away from the question of how immediate the carriers’ need for new spectrum is, because there is little doubt that those needs are growing and will become serious in the medium to long term.

      1. I had satelie and watched 2 channels but paid for a package that coct $75 a month…no flexible options with paid services…they dictate what the want us to watch.

    2. The idea that DTV frequencies are unusable for mobile data will come as a considerable surprise to AT&T and Verizon, which are building their LTE service on 700 MHz. There is a problem with the lower A block, but that is because of potential interference with broadcast channel 51.

      As I said in my second paragraph, I was deliberately staying away from the question of how immediate the carriers’ need for new spectrum is, because there is little doubt that those needs are growing and will become serious in the medium to long term.

  4. There are several major problems with this line of thinking.

    First off is the technical aspects. The realitively long wave RF frequencies of broadcast TV are good for fixed digital TV, but not for mobile devices. This is the primary reason that Verizon is willing to divest itself of its A and B block 700 MHz spectrum inorder to get regulatory approval of its aquistion of the SpectrumCo AWS spectrum. The higher frequency shorter wavelength waves can be more efficiently broadcast and received by a cell phone sized devices, and cell sizes can be made smaller increasing the efficiency of spectrum reuse.

    Second, there is growing evidence that there are hundreds of MHz of commercial spectrum lying fallow that is simply being “warehoused.” (wasted inorder to create a fake crisis)

    Third is that free OTA digital TV is by far the best deal in TV. The best channel selection and picture quality for the best price. The only thing keeping the pay-TV industry going is the billions of dollars in bribe money (retransmission and advertising dollars) that they pay broadcasters not to put them out of business. Cable and satellite are the obsolete technologies with limited value.

    Fourth, free wireless broadcast TV has infinite social value because it is available to everyone who ever saved up the money to buy the inexpensive receiving equipment anywhere within the reach of the broadcast towers. No matter how much you subsidize it with government (tax) money (which includes spectrum sales) you will never be able to do that with satellite or cable.

  5. Over the air is free in the sense that once you pay for a TV you can watch lots of stuff… For Free. Without OTA, you have to PAY for either cable or Dish, or Internet to see anything. And, I might add, that even when you pay for those other services, you still have to watch the same ads…. whats up with that ?

    If you want to git rid of Free OTA broadcasts, I’m expecting Free Cable or Free Dish for the same services… not cheap, but FREE.

    And if you want to go all the way down this road, let’s get rid of AM and FM as well.. Who listens to radio any more? ?

  6. Over the air is free in the sense that once you pay for a TV you can watch lots of stuff… For Free. Without OTA, you have to PAY for either cable or Dish, or Internet to see anything. And, I might add, that even when you pay for those other services, you still have to watch the same ads…. whats up with that ?

    If you want to git rid of Free OTA broadcasts, I’m expecting Free Cable or Free Dish for the same services… not cheap, but FREE.

    And if you want to go all the way down this road, let’s get rid of AM and FM as well.. Who listens to radio any more? ?

    1. A surprising number of people do listed to broadcast radio, especially in cars. But the real reason I didn’t mention radio is that the amount of spectrum you would get is too small to be worth the trouble. Furthermore, the frequencies, especially for AM, are too low to be usable for mobile data.

    2. A surprising number of people do listed to broadcast radio, especially in cars. But the real reason I didn’t mention radio is that the amount of spectrum you would get is too small to be worth the trouble. Furthermore, the frequencies, especially for AM, are too low to be usable for mobile data.

  7. Who’s paying this guy off? NO way! OTA is free, and has a superior picture. And not all of us have access to cable or broadband. A lot of us. I have Directv. If not for Sports programming, I’d ditch it…

  8. Who’s paying this guy off? NO way! OTA is free, and has a superior picture. And not all of us have access to cable or broadband. A lot of us. I have Directv. If not for Sports programming, I’d ditch it…

  9. The thing that bothers me about loosing broadcast TV is the smut factor. Broadcast TV can’t have too much swearing or too much violence or too much sex/nudity. It would be a lowering of the bar if those restrictions weren’t found anywhere anymore. It is one reason I still listen to broadcast radio. I like the radio edits of songs, without the foul language.

    1. It’s true that one reason the government would be very reluctant to end broadcast is that the fact that this content is sent out over the air, whether anyone watches it or not, gives the FCC the power to regulate content. Whether this is a good thing or not is a good topic for debate.

      1. “content is sent out over the air, whether anyone watches it or not”

        Fact: Over 90% of top rated TV shows are free OTA.

        1. It’s true that the most popular shows are available OTA (viewership of broadcast network still dwarfs nearly all cable shows), but very few people actually watch it that way. Most “broadcast” TV is watched through cable or satellite delivery.

      2. Steve, this whole ‘regulators just want to regulate’ is another flawed theory in your article (in addition to the one I mentioned earlier concerning mistaken claim about reduced OTA viewership). The fact is, regulators have a responsibility to the greater good, which means ensuring competition in the marketplace.

        As long as free OTA programming exists, it acts as a check and balance against excessive fees for cable or satellite services. If we remove that free option as you suggest, satellite, cable, and other service providers would be free to raise prices even more than they already have.

        Competition is crucial for a properly functioning marketplace, and free OTA broadcasts ensure certain providers don’t have carte blanche to charge whatever they want to a captive audience.

        1. If the FCC’s purpose is to promote competition, they have a very strange way of showing it. Consider their success in promoting broadband competition. And as for my regulators gott regulate claim, how else do you explain the commission’s mindless and pointless five-year pursuit of indecency charges against Fox for a momentary display of Janet Jackson’s breast?

          It’s not as if OTA television broadcast is free to society. We are paying a very high opportunity cost for something that is far from the best and highest use–to borrow another term from the regulatory lexicon–of that spectrum. And the Notice of Proposed Rule Making that has come out since I wrote that post makes it clear that it will be years, if ever, before we see unused TV spectrum repurposed.

          1. To be quite honest, and starting with Janet Jackson’s breast, there is too much censorship on public TV. I’m not much for swearing, but I hate hearing my favorite song on the radio, with a momentary “pause” of silence at the B word, or F word. However, if it isn’t between the legs, or butt cheeks, it shouldn’t be censored. Or if it is, than it needs to be censored for both male and female, not one or the other.

            Of course, I’ve been fighting for my version of censorship for a few years, now, no thanks to that fiasco over Jackson’s breast.

    2. It’s true that one reason the government would be very reluctant to end broadcast is that the fact that this content is sent out over the air, whether anyone watches it or not, gives the FCC the power to regulate content. Whether this is a good thing or not is a good topic for debate.

  10. The thing that bothers me about loosing broadcast TV is the smut factor. Broadcast TV can’t have too much swearing or too much violence or too much sex/nudity. It would be a lowering of the bar if those restrictions weren’t found anywhere anymore. It is one reason I still listen to broadcast radio. I like the radio edits of songs, without the foul language.

  11. In terms of consumer technology services, the US is unbelievably behind the rest of the planet, especially Europe.

    In the US, with no regional competition, there is NO cable or high speed internet in rural areas. Just ask Woz – seriously – he has none – he’s 1 (ONE) mile away from their limit. Horizon (I think) will not run the cable to his home.

    Over 60% of the US land is NOT covered. All of my friends use a OTA (what few channels they can receive) and no high-speed, satellite is a joke. If the US were to follow the rest of the world, there would be competition (true capitalism), this drives the price way down, increases services and speeds, and offers numerous service options.

    In the US, the major companies decided that only ONE cable company and ONE telephone company will be in a given area. This high pricing and terrible service was predicted decades ago. Cable companies, also, promised no commercials because unlike OTA you were paying for it, but that didn’t last very long.

    In fact AT&T has this exact set-up in England. They offer 76Mb/sec in RURAL areas for £26 (US$40.54) / month!!!. They can do it there, but not here because they don’t have to do it. NO COMPETITION in the US! Legal local monopolies. Big Business at work in your Congress.
    Serious, check this out…
    http://www.broadbandgenie.co.uk/broadband/internet-providers
    Test your speed – how close are you to 76Mb/sec?
    http://www.speedtest.net/

    One day, Americans will wake up and realize that large companies own Congress. All political parties are the same, but the Republicans seem to base their morality, too, on big business. And, when you realize that organized religion is big business, it makes more sense. Nothing happens unless the biggest companies allow it and they can profit from it.

    We can all start by halting all campaign financing, thus giving the power back to the people, not just the wealthy 1%. Until then, we’re all bought and sold; merely pawns in a game played by millionaires and billionaires.

    I’d love someone to prove me wrong.

  12. In terms of consumer technology services, the US is unbelievably behind the rest of the planet, especially Europe.

    In the US, with no regional competition, there is NO cable or high speed internet in rural areas. Just ask Woz – seriously – he has none – he’s 1 (ONE) mile away from their limit. Horizon (I think) will not run the cable to his home.

    Over 60% of the US land is NOT covered. All of my friends use a OTA (what few channels they can receive) and no high-speed, satellite is a joke. If the US were to follow the rest of the world, there would be competition (true capitalism), this drives the price way down, increases services and speeds, and offers numerous service options.

    In the US, the major companies decided that only ONE cable company and ONE telephone company will be in a given area. This high pricing and terrible service was predicted decades ago. Cable companies, also, promised no commercials because unlike OTA you were paying for it, but that didn’t last very long.

    In fact AT&T has this exact set-up in England. They offer 76Mb/sec in RURAL areas for £26 (US$40.54) / month!!!. They can do it there, but not here because they don’t have to do it. NO COMPETITION in the US! Legal local monopolies. Big Business at work in your Congress.
    Serious, check this out…
    http://www.broadbandgenie.co.uk/broadband/internet-providers
    Test your speed – how close are you to 76Mb/sec?
    http://www.speedtest.net/

    One day, Americans will wake up and realize that large companies own Congress. All political parties are the same, but the Republicans seem to base their morality, too, on big business. And, when you realize that organized religion is big business, it makes more sense. Nothing happens unless the biggest companies allow it and they can profit from it.

    We can all start by halting all campaign financing, thus giving the power back to the people, not just the wealthy 1%. Until then, we’re all bought and sold; merely pawns in a game played by millionaires and billionaires.

    I’d love someone to prove me wrong.

  13. Having lived through numerous hurricaine alerts over 39 years in Florida, including a close hit by a category 4, and recent direct hit by a cat 3, I would not want to go through another such event without my local broadcast stations, which were more reliable than cable. If cable went out (frequent), there was always a broadcast station somewhere in the area to get news of availability of emergency services, shelter facilities, gas, groceries and numerous other needs that arose. Beam on O Broadcast beacons! Mike

    1. right on Mike. I live in S. Florida myself. I posted here a rather long winded comment including your example. Sooner or later, the “big dogs” will fight and we’ll get into a major war with Russia or China, sad to say. The emergency broadcast network provided by these broadcasters will save lives.

      Actually during hurricane Andrew (August 1992), lives were saved by meteorologist Brian Norcross at the height of the storm in Homestead (S. Miami for those who don’t know…) when people called in (landlines were still working, cells were down) who were listening/watching and who needed to know what to do to ride out the storm.

  14. Having lived through numerous hurricaine alerts over 39 years in Florida, including a close hit by a category 4, and recent direct hit by a cat 3, I would not want to go through another such event without my local broadcast stations, which were more reliable than cable. If cable went out (frequent), there was always a broadcast station somewhere in the area to get news of availability of emergency services, shelter facilities, gas, groceries and numerous other needs that arose. Beam on O Broadcast beacons! Mike

  15. Good idea, Mr Wildstrom–let’s make everyone pay one of the gatekeepers. And let’s decrease national security by funnelling all communications for a critical medium through single, vulnerable, access points.

    Good thinking there, buddy…

  16. Good idea, Mr Wildstrom–let’s make everyone pay one of the gatekeepers. And let’s decrease national security by funnelling all communications for a critical medium through single, vulnerable, access points.

    Good thinking there, buddy…

  17. Broadcast TV is owned by a number of companies, not just 4 networks, so there is at least the possibility of divergent viewpoints slipping through now and then.

    In terms of what is being offered in the way of programming, broadcasting is indeed redundant for the most part. But the fact that multiple transmitters are involved means that it would be all but impossible for a weather event or terrorist act to black out a city or region. The information broadcasting would provide in one of those cases would be worth all of the bandwidth that you consider ‘wasted’ and then some.

  18. Broadcast TV is owned by a number of companies, not just 4 networks, so there is at least the possibility of divergent viewpoints slipping through now and then.

    In terms of what is being offered in the way of programming, broadcasting is indeed redundant for the most part. But the fact that multiple transmitters are involved means that it would be all but impossible for a weather event or terrorist act to black out a city or region. The information broadcasting would provide in one of those cases would be worth all of the bandwidth that you consider ‘wasted’ and then some.

  19. Amazing that you are so wise and live in every part of the country. I happen to be one of those people who can’t get cable or other means of watching TV. I live in rural South Dakota and can select from 28 different stations to watch OTA. I can get DSL and the max speed at the range I am from the nearest CO is 256kb most times lower. I am sure you would have a smart ass comment that people like myself don’t count. On the other hand being a rural state that is most agriculture you need us more then we need you. Please pull your head out take a deep breath I think you are hypoxic.

    1. or…..believe it or not in an UNSERVICABLE area by any of it but say a local phone line…………which happens…………

      1. And worse, no 911 access. According to the FCC, some areas still don’t have it. I haven’t read or heard of anyplace that still has decedent (pulse) dialing.

  20. Amazing that you are so wise and live in every part of the country. I happen to be one of those people who can’t get cable or other means of watching TV. I live in rural South Dakota and can select from 28 different stations to watch OTA. I can get DSL and the max speed at the range I am from the nearest CO is 256kb most times lower. I am sure you would have a smart ass comment that people like myself don’t count. On the other hand being a rural state that is most agriculture you need us more then we need you. Please pull your head out take a deep breath I think you are hypoxic.

  21. Steve, other commenters here have noted the most likely reason why there is still a substantial minority (25%) of individuals who do not subscribe to cable television or to a satellite TV service. They desire the zero-cost option of over-the-air TV broadcasts.

    Is there any likelihood of cable television operators offering a free basic cable offering, providing the channels that are available to an OTA receiver, to encourage these consumers to switch to cable?

    If such an offering is made mandatory, I could see a migration of that 25% to cable, and then, despite the power of the NAB, we could well start the move to reclaim broadcast TV bandwidth.

    As other commenters here have noted, in another generation, the move away from the use of OTA TV and to the use of TV over the Internet will be complete. So if we can afford to wait until 2040 or so, this problem will go away of its own.

    1. “So if we can afford to wait until 2040 or so, this problem will go away of its own.”

      I agree, although the writer here may think that is too long to wait. A growing number of people are watching shows by the season long after the seasons have aired. A large portion of 20 and 30 something’s don’t even have a TV. I’m pretty sure both broadcast and cable/sat TV is being supported by their parents and sports enthusiasts only. I say in twenty years the distribution model of content will look entirely different. Maybe then it will be easier to free up that bandwidth, although I think local interests will suffer. FM radio seems to have an increase in low powered stations that is striking a chord with localvores.

      Joe

  22. Steve, other commenters here have noted the most likely reason why there is still a substantial minority (25%) of individuals who do not subscribe to cable television or to a satellite TV service. They desire the zero-cost option of over-the-air TV broadcasts.

    Is there any likelihood of cable television operators offering a free basic cable offering, providing the channels that are available to an OTA receiver, to encourage these consumers to switch to cable?

    If such an offering is made mandatory, I could see a migration of that 25% to cable, and then, despite the power of the NAB, we could well start the move to reclaim broadcast TV bandwidth.

    As other commenters here have noted, in another generation, the move away from the use of OTA TV and to the use of TV over the Internet will be complete. So if we can afford to wait until 2040 or so, this problem will go away of its own.

  23. I was going to say you are a shill for TimeWarner, Comcast, DISH, or whatever, but they’ll claim OTA usage is way less than 25%.

    Cable gets more and more expensive for less and less interesting things to watch.

    1. The enabling technologies for CATV have had their bandwidth capabilities increase a hundred-fold, yet the price of the service keeps on going up … even before we complain about the decline in quality of the content. The OTA business model is advertising … but those CATV channels aren’t promotion-free either.

      What the spectrum debate ultimately comes down to is context. Sure, 200MHz of bandwith sounds like a lot to someone in UHF – – but that merely illustrates the contect of what part of the Spectrum you’re in. UHF is down at 300MHz to 3GHz, so 200MHz represents 7% of the band. But move up to SHF, and that same 200MHz of bandwith drops to 0.7%

      What this is illusrating is merely that here’s tons of competition for the part of the spectrum where it is DIRT CHEAP to build hardware for to use … and that’s really the issue here: money.

      Simply move up in the spectrum to higher bands and there’s plenty of spectrum – – but your hardware for deployment isn’t as cheap anymore. There’s “Single Chip” technologies out there right now being built which have 2+GHz of bandwidth … yes, that’s 10x the bandwidth of all of the OTA TV channels combined that he’s complaining about.

      1. Cable fees are being driven primarily by the rising cost to operators of content particularly sports channels, although broadcasters have also been pushing up the retransmission fees for their channels.

        The propagation properties of frequencies above 3 GHz or so are problematic for mobile data use. In particular, in-building penetration is very poor. Also, all of that spectrum os currently spoken for by someone and would have to be freed for mobile data use.

        1. Steve,

          The high UHF band (470 Mhz and above) suffer from the same issues with blockage of signal by building materials. That’s why an outdoor TV antenna on a 30ft pole is far superior to an in-attic antenna!

      2. Cable fees are being driven primarily by the rising cost to operators of content particularly sports channels, although broadcasters have also been pushing up the retransmission fees for their channels.

        The propagation properties of frequencies above 3 GHz or so are problematic for mobile data use. In particular, in-building penetration is very poor. Also, all of that spectrum os currently spoken for by someone and would have to be freed for mobile data use.

    2. The enabling technologies for CATV have had their bandwidth capabilities increase a hundred-fold, yet the price of the service keeps on going up … even before we complain about the decline in quality of the content. The OTA business model is advertising … but those CATV channels aren’t promotion-free either.

      What the spectrum debate ultimately comes down to is context. Sure, 200MHz of bandwith sounds like a lot to someone in UHF – – but that merely illustrates the contect of what part of the Spectrum you’re in. UHF is down at 300MHz to 3GHz, so 200MHz represents 7% of the band. But move up to SHF, and that same 200MHz of bandwith drops to 0.7%

      What this is illusrating is merely that here’s tons of competition for the part of the spectrum where it is DIRT CHEAP to build hardware for to use … and that’s really the issue here: money.

      Simply move up in the spectrum to higher bands and there’s plenty of spectrum – – but your hardware for deployment isn’t as cheap anymore. There’s “Single Chip” technologies out there right now being built which have 2+GHz of bandwidth … yes, that’s 10x the bandwidth of all of the OTA TV channels combined that he’s complaining about.

  24. I was going to say you are a shill for TimeWarner, Comcast, DISH, or whatever, but they’ll claim OTA usage is way less than 25%.

    Cable gets more and more expensive for less and less interesting things to watch.

  25. So, what happened to my original post? Too many facts? Like the fact that DTV frequencies aren’t compatible with mobile devices and the reality of spectrum warehousing!!! Steve, just how much heroin are you buying with those AT&T payoffs?

    1. Disqus for some reasons dumped your original post into the spam folder, from which I rescued it this morning.

      But how about a little civility here? I’ve been putting up with this for years, but I still have no idea why commenters are so quick to conclude that anyone they disagree with is somehow being paid for their opinions. I can assure you that the considerable monthly flow of money between me and AT&T and Verizon is all in one direction, towards the carriers.

      1. “the considerable monthly flow of money between me and AT&T and Verizon is all in one direction, towards the carriers.”

        Which is exactly the point, isn’t it? Not everyone can afford to pay for it, as people with deep pockets like yourself can. Having the government (Also known as ME!) pay for it? Are you serious? That is a pretty poor option, isn’t it?

      2. “the considerable monthly flow of money between me and AT&T and Verizon is all in one direction, towards the carriers.”

        Which is exactly the point, isn’t it? Not everyone can afford to pay for it, as people with deep pockets like yourself can. Having the government (Also known as ME!) pay for it? Are you serious? That is a pretty poor option, isn’t it?

    2. Disqus for some reasons dumped your original post into the spam folder, from which I rescued it this morning.

      But how about a little civility here? I’ve been putting up with this for years, but I still have no idea why commenters are so quick to conclude that anyone they disagree with is somehow being paid for their opinions. I can assure you that the considerable monthly flow of money between me and AT&T and Verizon is all in one direction, towards the carriers.

    3. Okay Dan Snappy, your insult wasn’t aimed at me but I still take offense. If you can’t state your view without getting nasty, just stay away. Your kind of comment doesn’t help anybody. Think about that.

  26. So, what happened to my original post? Too many facts? Like the fact that DTV frequencies aren’t compatible with mobile devices and the reality of spectrum warehousing!!! Steve, just how much heroin are you buying with those AT&T payoffs?

  27. Here in Canada, OTA, is becoming more popular, but the CBC is shutting down the Analog stations. Analog TV might be dieing, but the Digital TV is taking off, esp with Multiplexing.

    1. Many people are confused (not saying you are David) about “analog” vs. “digital” in regards to broadcast TV. There really is no difference between the two in terms of antennas or equipment needed up to the point of the TV itself. One big advantage of digital as David mentioned, is that with digital, “sub-channels” can be added to a channel via multiplexing of data.

  28. Here in Canada, OTA, is becoming more popular, but the CBC is shutting down the Analog stations. Analog TV might be dieing, but the Digital TV is taking off, esp with Multiplexing.

  29. “Still reusing all that underused TV spectrum is something worth dreaming about.”

    No, the spectrum isn’t underused:
    http://www.dtvusaforum.com/content/525-empty-boxcars-fcc-s-scale-needs-calibration.html

    The number of people using OTA TV is INCREASING as people cut the cable and ditch the dish for as many as 50 free channels. And the main reason more people don’t use OTA is they don’t know about it – as the pay TV industry works to keep free TV a secret.

    The REAL solution to the alleged “spectrum crisis” is to deploy internet via cable, fiber, and wi-fi – and not via wireless.

  30. “Still reusing all that underused TV spectrum is something worth dreaming about.”

    No, the spectrum isn’t underused:
    http://www.dtvusaforum.com/content/525-empty-boxcars-fcc-s-scale-needs-calibration.html

    The number of people using OTA TV is INCREASING as people cut the cable and ditch the dish for as many as 50 free channels. And the main reason more people don’t use OTA is they don’t know about it – as the pay TV industry works to keep free TV a secret.

    The REAL solution to the alleged “spectrum crisis” is to deploy internet via cable, fiber, and wi-fi – and not via wireless.

  31. wow. Wildstrom – finally a smart journalist/reporter! saying the truth, not b.s. or beating around the bush of the real issue with the state of the art of tv in america.

    ironic though, that the gov. wants to regain the economic prowess, american inventiveness etc, when they’re blocking all progress, not just in technology but oil, energy, banking etc. by killing democracy through fear of freedom!

  32. Do you work for the liars in the cable tv industry? They actually made the American people a promise, way back in the 70’s. We were quite happy with our free tv. All we had to do, was put up with a few commercials that paid for it. Kids were pretty thin and healthy in those days. They had many social interests, skating, playing ball, playing dolls, being imaginative, riding bikes, reading, on and on. Lots of PE sorts of things. Cable made the promise, low rates so everybody could afford it. And not just basic stuff, as we had that. And to keep it low. Also, the prime part was no commercials, since each american household was more than paying for that. How long did that last?? Right now, cable is almost a car payment! Rediculous! You have to decide between eating and paying cable!! It’s time we start holding these people who are scalping and lying to us accountable.

  33. This is a horrible idea. It was just 3 years ago TV stations spent millions of dollars getting ready for the DTV Transtion. Now Broadcast TV is better then ever with the best quality of HD and more channels than ever thanks to subchannels. Now to get rid of OTA just so the wireless broadband carriers can make even more money is insane. Not to mention all the money spent on converter boxes by the government and consumers getting ready for the DTV transtion. We already have a 15 trillion dollar deficit and a decision like this would just make it worse.

    Pay TV bills are around $100 a month these days and there are reality shows on most channels. The amount of commercials and reruns are at an all time high these days. I wouldn’t pay $100 to watch TV even if there was decent programming on.

  34. I don’t know what content services the author uses or what cable/satellite companies he has stock in, but I do know that myself and several of my technical friends are cutting the cable/satellite cords and going back to OTA content. Since the transition to digital OTA broadcasts most content looks and sounds incredible as it has gone full HD along with better than stereo audio. And with the smaller OTA digital sprecturm and computer aided antenna modeling, digital antennas have gotten better. I build my own antennas for myself as well as friends and family and the signal strength and picture quality is outstanding. I disagree with this article as I see a movement away from increasingly expensive cable/satellite content back to OTA content. IMHO, 200MHz is not too much for OTA and it is not wasted or wasteful.

  35. No doubt you probably receive you salary from the cable or wirless industy. Wake up! 54 million americans use over the air television, why? Because it FREE! Maybe you can afford $100. per month to watch the History channel, Discovery and other so called channels who has lost their way. All you get from these so called TV providers is a sucking sound reaching into your pocket via the satellite and cable providers. Many local broadcasters provide a vaulable service to their communities by offering free air time and many other services you won’t see from the cable or satellite networks. When was the last time a cable or satellite station warned you of a pending storm? Yea, let’s give up the TV spectrum so more people can play games on their wireless devices. Maybe it isn’t over the air TV we should be shooting.

  36. The only reason the numbers are dropping so bad on OTA viewers is because it’s HORRIBLE QUALITY! It’s not dependable, the signals come and go with the rise and fall of the sun and constantly break-up when it does come in. Getting away from Analog was a BAD idea it seems.

  37. Broadcast is a legacy technology….millions and millions of older, poorer and underprivileged use broadcast tv as there only means of news, emergency updates and of course entertainment……..moving tv into a double dipped (thinks ads on top of paying) service is both unhuman and selfish of people who have money……if FOX and CBS can’t hang….I SAY KILL UM OFF NOW …..besides how we NOT KNOW that the current status of the Aero dubunkal isn’t something started by a wireless company to accomplish exactly what we’re talking about here…………….umhum…….

    1. It is no secret who is behind Aereo, Barry Diller and IAC/Interactive. He makes no secret of the fact that his goal is to disrupt the TV.

      I realize there are people who depend on over-the-air because they have no choice. But my point is that the social cost of reserving all that spectrum for to provide relatively few people with OTA television that we can afford to find alternative solutions for them–they do exist–and still come out ahead..

  38. This guy is crazy! Free tv is a viable alternative to the price gouging of cable and satellite ! People should be “free” to choose how they watch tv ! Forcing people to have to pay for tv when they can get it for free isn’t democratic at all. The cable and satellite companies force you to pay for a lot of garbage channels you’ll never watch !

  39. And yes, I just wasted part of my evening, commenting on a two/three year old article. That’s just my thing.

  40. This guy “Steve” has no idea of what people out in the country and older American face. Over the air is the only way we receive television, and now the big media and rating companies want to eliminate that in the interest of more “spectrum” to sell off, greed and viewer IP tracking. We receive weather alerts OTA and often cable or satellite systems go down at the first raindrop! For many older people, it’s the only affordable companionship they have. Please!! This is just craziness- unless Steve wants to pay my cable or Internet bill after he pays to string the cable wires out here. If this happens that will be the end of ALL corporate television for me.

  41. Big business hates when we get to use the country’s resources for free when they could be getting richer by making us poorer.

  42. What. An idiot…weather kills satellite and storms bring down cable…how do we define poor and why should they get low cost TV and the rest pay for it…this man is not credible..who hired him?

  43. I cut the cord on cable tv…..and no…i’m not poor.I purchased an antenna and absolutely love my (free for me) OTA television!I don’t need 200-300 useless cable channels with an outrageous monthly fee.Screw the cable co monopolies.If one day OTA tv goes away i will gladly retire my tv to the dustbin of history.

  44. I’m ashamed to share a name with the author of this article. I can’t get broadband where I live, and satellite sucks during bad weather (an oft occurrence). Go get a job flipping burgers, Wildstrom.

  45. Mr. Wildstrom,

    I strongly disagree and think that taking these bands from broadcast TV and giving to mobile providers is a very bad idea. Living in S. Florida, I can tell you first-hand that when there is a disaster such as a hurricane (could also be a terrorist attack on power grid or God Forbid, a nuclear one), the over-the-air broadcast network is a vital communication mechanism. The stations make money while providing an alternate path of information that does not require satellites or even a power grid – stations have a few days of fuel to run generators and continue broadcasting.

    Getting all our information thru a cable or internet network using satellites would make us very vulnerable. Do we really want to do that? The spectrum is supposed to be allocated according to what is in the public interest, not what is best for AT&T, Metro PCS, etc. Spectrum allocated to mobile devices does nothing to serve our national interest.

    I am an electrical engineer who has worked in the mobile industry and I can tell you that they would be doing fine with the current bandwidth allocated except for the constant push for new features and functionality, few of which are actually needed and most of which are simply dreamed up as a way to poach customers from other providers. Enough already!

    More and more people such as myself are making the switch from cable TV to broadcast + streaming. Thus, the high VHF and UHF bands currently allocated to HDTV are not being wasted and as I said above, they serve our national interest and security to remain allocated for HDTV not to mention the benefit of competition to the cable providers. Let’s keep it as is, thank you very much.

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