Democracy & Technology Blog A thought on the digital television transition

Spectrum auctions were justified as a way for the “public” to receive a “fair portion” of the value of the public spectrum resource. But spectrum auctions are really just another tax which has transferred billions of dollars from the pockets of consumers to the coffers of government. The cost of spectrum licenses is fully reflected in the cost structure, and thus the pricing, of mobile phone service – as it should be. The affordability and availability of mobile phone service suffers as a result. The tendency of some politicians to view spectrum primarily as a tool for balancing the budget is a huge obstacle to affordable and universal broadband.
What’s the point? When Congress reconvenes next week, it faces the task of extending the FCC’s spectrum auction authority and, hopefully, setting a hard deadline for the return of analog broadcast spectrum. It will consider how to structure the auctions to maximize bidding, how to defray the cost of digital-to-analog converter boxes for the 19% of all households which still rely exclusively on free over-the-air television, and how to steer consumers who wish to purchase a new TV set to pay extra for a digital model. But all of this assumes that the politically-powerful broadcasters are willing to part with the spectrum.
One thing Congress will not consider is giving the spectrum to the broadcasters, letting them sell it and pay taxes on the proceeds. Some people would get rich(er), but it would be a whole lot easier

Hance Haney

Director and Senior Fellow of the Technology & Democracy Project
Hance Haney served as Director and Senior Fellow of the Technology & Democracy Project at the Discovery Institute, in Washington, D.C. Haney spent ten years as an aide to former Senator Bob Packwood (OR), and advised him in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Communications Subcommittee during the deliberations leading to the Telecommunications Act of 1996. He subsequently held various positions with the United States Telecom Association and Qwest Communications. He earned a B.A. in history from Willamette University and a J.D. from Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon.