Broadcasters Leverage Monopoly on TV Channels to Push Vacant Channel FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt)

It’s always nice when you can give yourself free advertising time on television. So no surprise the National Association of Broadcasters has launched a major advertising campaign in the DC Area to persuade members of Congress that allowing unlicensed use of the broadcast white spaces will mess up the transition to digital television. Indeed, the NAB has made this into a grand campaign, including a new website called “Interference Zones” complete with adorable graphics of “Wally, the Unlicensed Wireless Device” messing up the “pristine digital television signal” to your “beautiful new digital TV.” I particularly like how they got Wally’s fun-loving but malicious grin rendered so “pristinely.”

And, in case you missed it the first time, the site also contains a link to the Association for Maximum Service Television classic “educational” video Your Neighbor’s Static. “Your Neighbor’s Static” is as realistic a portrayal of the effects of white spaces devices on TV as Reefer Madness is a balanced documentary on the pros and cons of medical marijuana.

It’s all just the usual fun and games here in DC, and a fine example of why the broadcasters have so much power as a lobby.

More below . . . .

But the broadcasters have seized an unfortunate opportunity created by Microsoft and its defective prototype. For those just tuning in, the FCC is setting standards for how unlicensed devices in the white spaces would operate. The Office of Engineering Technology invited anyone interested to submit potential prototypes to help testing. Both Microsoft and Phillips submitted prototypes they claimed would detect DTV signals at a level low enough to avoid operating on an existing channel (a method of interference avoidance called “sensing”).

Note please, these are (a) prototypes, (b) testing a proof of concept about the potential for sensing, and (c) only one of three methods proposed for detecting channels. The FCC’s Office of Engineering Technology (OET) conducted some good lab tests of both prototypes, both of which performed perfectly in the lab (which is pretty impressive for a first-time prototype). OET also conducted a field test of the Microsoft prototype, because MS swore their device was ready for field tests. It performed about as well as any other beta product from MS. i.e., it kinda worked, but not nearly at the level of performance MS promised. All of this OET duly noted and reported publicly last July.

MS, it should be pointed out, complained that OET (a) failed to notice that the prototype they tested broke after they took it out of the box (although OET is still bound by the shrink-wrap license to kidnap Kevin Martin’s baby and deliver it to Steve Balmer for “unspecified Satanic and/or Pagan rituals”); and, (b) OET failed to try a test with the back up prototype, which MS had delivered in case something happened to the first prototype. OET acknowledged that they failed to use the backup prototype, because (a) it would have taken forever to reinstall, and (b) they could not STAND the annoying “White Space Wizard” feature they included in the most recent “prototype patch and upgrade.” (“Hi! I see you are setting complex technical standards for dynamic spectrum frequency and power control. Would you like help?”) And, indeed, Kevin Martin confirmed at yesterday’s FCC open meeting that OET would run the test again, this time using the back up prototype.

As you would imagine, the NAB has seized this opportunity to declare that they were right all along, even back when they were just making this stuff up. Because, just as President Bush would never lie to the American people on critical matters of war and national security, the NAB would never lie to us about spectrum interference. Except for when they lied about whether low power FM would cause interference. But that shouldn’t affect their credibility now.

Which brings us to the NAB and its members giving itself millions of dollars of free TV time to advertise against the possible use of white spaces. Sadly since most member of Congress remain blissfully unaware of this issue, we can expect that the first time many Senators and Representatives will hear about a technology that revolutionize wireless broadband and other wireless services in tis country will be in the guise of the evil Wally the unlicensed white spaces device and his nefarious plan to screw up the DTV transition and get all your constituents to hate you forever. And all the local TV station owners, who these elected Senators and Representatives rely on for news coverage to stay elected, will call and ask why Congress is letting the FCC even think such reckless, dangerous thoughts. After all, the networks claim this could put the very Superbowl at risk by screwing up wireless microphones! “Why doesn’t someone do something to bring this agency to its senses! And did we mention we would love to report about how our wonderful elected officials saved the digital transition from reckless Federal bureaucrats and the evil Microsoft/Google alliance?”

And such is the triumph of the NAB over reason that you can already see members of Congress responding. Commerce Committee Chair John Dingell has sent a letter to Kevin Martin to crack the whip and make sure that nothing will interfere with television and the Superbowl short of another indecent wardrobe malfunction.

So yeah, it’s nice when you control the airwaves. Especially when you can use that monopoly to stay in control by making sure you keep everyone else out.

Stay tuned . . . .

Comments are closed.