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AT&T Questions Broadcasters Use Of TV Spectrum

Policymakers “need to take a fresh look at existing allocations of spectrum, including the allocation of spectrum to broadcasters” to determine if “that spectrum is still needed by the broadcast industry or if it is better used in other areas,” said Jim Ciconni, senior executive VP of AT&T at a Washington think tank event. Criticizing 50-year-old government policies, Ciconni also pushed for re-examination of the spectrum reserve that is hoarded by federal agencies, especially the Defense Department, that could be reassigned or shared for commercial purposes.

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Claiming that the “government put its thumb on the scale” when it gave TV operators so much spectrum, Ciconni argued that, “It’s time to take a fresh look … at the geographic monopoly bestowed by the government” to broadcasters, whom, he charged, are not fulfilling the obligations of their licenses – especially since they rely on MVPDs for much of their distribution and revenue.

Ciconni also said its time to reexamine the policy preferences given to digital platforms when they emerged in the 1990s, when the internet was nascent. He said some of those policies “make little sense today.”

Cicconi eased into his assaults on broadcasting and digital behemoths by questioning the large spectrum reserve held by the federal government, especially by the Defense Depar​t​ment.

“The issue that cries out for Congressional action is the immense amount of spectrum still held by the Federal government,” citing the value of “sharing Defense Department spectrum if we’re to move forward,” he said.

AT&T’s D.C. lobbyist, who ackno​wledged he holds the job on an “interim” basis (called back six months ago after a two-year retirement), focused on broadcasters’ “ineffective” use of airwaves and the “unlevel playing field” at a time with growing demand for wireless spectrum.

“Stations are not owned by locals to the extent they were 50 years ago,” he said, citing the “conglomerates and hedge funds” that now hold TV licenses. He claimed that TV stations do not fulfill “the social contract” that was part of their local license agreement. In particular (reflecting AT&T’s ownership of the fading DirecTV service), Ciconni denounced the “constant blackouts and threats of blackouts … [that] have ticked off customers, who are leaving broadcast for streaming services.”

“The status quo is not sustainable,” Ciconni said.

Ciconni waived off a question from Multichannel News about the potential impact of ATSC 3.0 (“NextGen TV”), which enables broadcasters to offer internet protocol wireless services, potentially in competition with telecom 5G ventures.

“I don’t really know,” Cicconi chuckled.

Unified Privacy Accord, Wireless Policies on Agenda Albeit Washington Priorities Uncertain
Ciconni’s tirade was part of the centerpiece panel during the Free State Foundation’s 12th annual Telecom Policy Conference in Washington on Tuesday, March 10. Reflecting the theme of the event (“Broadband Beyond 2020: Competition, Freedom, and Privacy”), the panel delved into an array of issues, supplementing points made by the program’s keynoters from the White House, Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission.

FTC commissioner Christine Wilson led the call for a single nationwide privacy policy rather than the evolving state-by-state privacy process that is emerging now that the California Consumer Privacy Act has gone into effect. Wilson cited studies showing that consumers don’t understand how personal information is used, and acknowled​g​ed that “although I have great faith in markets, sometimes legislation is necessary” to assure that consumers are treated fairly.

“Government intervention through the form of privacy legislation may help consumers,” she said, urging a “comprehensive privacy” law, and recommending that “the FTC … should be the enforcement agency.” She also suggested that the FTC “should have jurisdiction over non- profits and common carriers” that collect large amounts of personal data. Preemption is key to precluding a patchwork of state laws that will hinder businesses and data flows, Wilson said.

After endorsing continu​ed use of the FCC’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order, Wilson pointed out that the FTC is “actively strengthening its existing expertise in broadband and technology markets.” She cited the newly created “technology enforcement division,” whose jurisdiction includes internet policies and called the group “incredibly busy.”

WiFi-6 vs. 5G, 5.9 GHz and Beyond, Despite Shifting Policy Landscape
During the conference’s panel discussion on spectrum usage, the focus turned to licensed versus unlicensed allocations – and a total geek-fest evolved.

“If we don’t have more spectrum, then WiFi in home​s​ and office​s​ will become a chokepoint,” warned Mary Brown, senior director for technology and spectrum policy at Cisco. She said that more unlicensed spectrum is vital “to keep up with ​DOCSIS 3.1 and DOCSIS ​4​.0, which is on the drawing board.”

“Unlice​n​sed is part of our 5G future,” she said, empha​sizing that it is necessary because “our broadband speeds are increasing.”

Brown added that “the point of ​opening up the 6 GHz band” is to capitalize on the “fixed inks that are already there.”

The panel agreed that the evolution of WiFi 6 (the next generation of near-range wireless service) is part of the rollout of 5G systems.

James Assey, executive VP of NCTA – the Internet and Television Association, insisted that, “we need both [licensed and unlicensed spectrum].”

“We need a balanced spectrum policy that … recognizes the tremendous value in unlicensed spectrum​,” he said. “Unlicensed has shown it can revolutionize how people use that band. … We are going to need …both sufficient spectrum for licensed users and to support unlicensed and gigabit WiFi … [which] will serve as a backbone for future services.”

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