FCC enters spectrum debate

Broadcasters expected to oppose reclamation suggestions

NEW YORK -- The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday kicked off a process that will look into whether some airwaves used by broadcasters should be reclaimed and repurposed to expand the reach of high-speed Internet services to more Americans.

The FCC issued a public notice seeking comment by Dec. 21 on the issue, which is likely to see chairman Julius Genachowski's agency run into strong opposition from broadcasters. Genachowski previously warned of a possible spectrum crisis, and the FCC has raised questions about whether broadcasters use their spectrum efficiently.

Broadcasters feel they would be unduly punished if they had to give up spectrum.

"Broadband deployment to unserved areas is a worthy goal, and broadcasters believe we can help the FCC accomplish its mission without stifling growth opportunities of free and local TV stations and the millions of viewers that we serve," said NAB executive vp Dennis Wharton in a statement. "We would hope policymakers would remember that after spending $15 billion upgrading to the next generation of television, broadcasters just returned to the government more than a quarter of the spectrum used for free and local TV service."

Broadcasters have been working on using their spectrum to make available TV stations' programs in mobile TV form.

For example, News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch surprised some Tuesday when he told an FTC workshop in Washington, DC that his conglomerate has for two years worked on a project "that would use a portion of our broadcast spectrum to bring our TV offerings -- and maybe even our newspaper content -- to mobile devices."

Analysts asked about the project said they weren't aware of it, but suggested it was a way for News Corp. to keep control of its content distribution. A News Corp. spokesman declined to provide further comment.