Even before President Barack Obama took office last year, he made a controversial decision to delay the digital TV switch over. Scheduled for February of 2009, this was eventually pushed back to June to ensure that fewer people would be left without a TV signal. The then President-Elect argued that many people were unprepared for the switch and thus was born the DTV Delay Act.
Now, one year later, the Federal Communications Commission is looking to help bring broadband to the masses, or at least to those currently unable to get high-speed Internet. As mobile and broadband become more connected, this is an issue that is extremely important. The FCC and the Obama administration worry that the United States could fall behind it the development of broadband despite the fact that the technology was essentially invented here!
Of course, this is with good reason too. The U.S. has often been a nation of “good enough.” Business users, as well as consumers, were satisfied with our reliable landline service, and thus mobile adoption took place far faster in many parts of the developing world simply because users opted to bypass landlines! Likewise, the U.S., when making the switch from black and white TV to color TV, took a far different approach from other parts of the world. According to the FCC, it took 12 year for 10 percent of U.S. households to get color TV sets. Part of the reason was that black and white sets were still fairly expensive and color sets were really expensive during the 1960s switch over. But the U.S. took the bold move of ensuring that color TV signals could be viewed on a black and white set. This made the switch over far different than last year’s analog to digital conversation.
To many, black and white TV was good enough, just as analog TV remains good enough (albeit with a converter box). But the POTUS and FCC are pushing that dial-up, or worse no Internet connectivity, is simply not good enough. To this end FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has made it clear that broadband is going to be a top priority and a new proposal calls for connecting 100 million U.S. households to broadband connections of 100 megabits per second (which is at least 20 times faster than most homes have today) by 2020.
The argument says the FCC is not just for faster games or surfing, but also to allow doctors to monitor patients and students to take classes online. Of course this would also change the way businesses work. But the question remains how to get us there. One way might be to expand the use of wireless technology, which brings us back to the spectrum that is currently being used for free, over-the-air TV. The plan calls for the government to buy back the spectrum that broadcasters might not need and use it for Wi-Fi networks and other delivery means.
Just don’t expect this to happen without a fight. The National Association of Broadcasters will likely dig in on this one, notably as TV broadcasters gave up more than 100 megahertz of spectrum with the analog shut off. Broadcasters had plans to use the current spectrum for multicasting of the high-definition digital signals, including sending mobile TV to phones and laptops. This could be a showdown between broadband Internet and mobile TV. The question is whether the airwaves can actually handle a delivery of both, as well as the current radio signals, HDTV signals and other information that flows through the airwaves.