Spectrum Giveaway [cr-95/11/13]


Sender: •••@••.••• (Faye M. Anderson)

By Faye M. Anderson

Everywhere you look in Washington these days, you'll find someone who is out to
 end welfare as we know it.  Problem is, the welfare programs that they want to
 reform tend to include just Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), the
 safety net for mothers and children who are living at or below the poverty
 level.  Well, there's a far more expensive and egregious AFDC program about
 which we hear precious little--Aid For Dependent Corporations.

The new welfare kings don't live in America's depressed urban and rural areas,
 and you won't see them at the bus stop.  No, these welfare kings wear a
 spit-shine on their polished wing-tips and whisk from one steel-and-glass tower
 to the next in chauffeur-driven limousines.

And here's the kicker:  The new welfare kings are about to pull off their
 biggest scam yet--a $100 billion rip-off of additional broadcast spectrum in
 which the unwitting dupes are the American people who own the spectrum.

The story began a few years ago when the Federal Communications Commission
 embarked on a misguided industrial policy to promote a new kind of television
 that would offer crisper, more detailed pictures.  Known as high definition
 television or HDTV, this television for the 21st century will require new
 receivers so anyone who wants to watch it will have to buy a new television set
 that will cost around $2500.

To ease the transition for the nation's 'struggling' broadcasters (the four
 major networks posted revenues totaling $14.6 billion in 1994), the FCC decided
 to _give_ them a second chunk of broadcast spectrum equal in size to the
 spectrum that they already have.  The plan was to continue to use the old
 spectrum to broadcast with traditional analog technology while making the
 transition to HDTV.

We all know the line about the best laid plans of mice and men (No, I'm not
 referring to the Disney/ABC deal because there's nothing mickey-mouse about
 this giveaway).  As it often does, technology overtook public policy and
 rendered obsolete the FCC plan for HDTV.  With the advent of digital
 compression technology, broadcasters discovered that they could use the new
 spectrum for purposes other than HDTV.  Instead of sending out a single HDTV
 signal, they could use the spectrum to transmit up to six channels of
 digitally-compressed broadcast or non-broadcast services (read:  six new
 revenue streams), or as many as 72 channels of CD quality radio.  So even
 though the original plan has been cancelled, the broadcasters are walking the
 halls of Congress saying, "I want my HDTV spectrum."

With the federal coffers bare and Congress calling for shared sacrifice to
 balance the budget by the year 2002, it defies common sense that the public
 interest will somehow be served by giving away a public resource estimated to
 be worth between $10 billion and $100 billion to subsidize some corporate fat

If the new welfare kings don't ante up their fair share, the pending
 telecommunications legislation, intended to promote fair competition and job
 creation, will instead shut out new entrants to the digital broadcast market,
 stifle innovation and economic growth, and confer upon incumbent broadcasters
 an unfair and unearned advantage over small businesses, and women and
 minority-owned businesses who just a few months ago paid hundreds of millions
 of dollars for licenses to provide interactive and wireless communications
 services.  With their gift of new spectrum, broadcasters will be able to
 provide those same services with no upfront payment to the U.S. Treasury.

The members of Congress who are working on the telecommunications bill must
 protect the public interest and end the reign of the new welfare kings.  They
 must heed the clear message that voters sent in the 1994 mid-term elections to
 end business as usual and to reform all welfare programs, including corporate
 welfare.  Otherwise, all the talk about welfare reform boils down to this:  The
 rich will get richer.  As for the rest of us, we'll get a prettier television


Faye M. Anderson is executive director of the Council of 100, a national network
 of African American Republicans headquartered in Washington, D.C.
Faye M. Anderson
P.O. Box 65164
Washington, DC  20035-5164
(202) 775-5496 ~~ (202) 484-7029 fax

 Posted by Andrew Oram  - •••@••.••• - Moderator: CYBER-RIGHTS (CPSR)
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