The proposal, called Jumpstarting Opportunity with Broadband Spectrum (JOBS) Act of 2011, was passed on from the Communications and Technology Subcommittee to the full House Energy & Commerce Committee.
In order to free up valuable spectrum currently used for digital TV, the bill would authorize the FCC to offer broadcasters payment in exchange for moving down from their current UHF assignments to VHF frequencies. While this sounds like a simple proposition, that's not necessarily the case.
When DTV broadcasts first began in the US, most broadcasters were using various UHF frequencies due to the limited bandwidth available on the VHF portion of the spectrum where most of their analog signals resided. When permanent digital frequencies were assigned by the FCC, the lower two portions of the VHF spectrum were avoided due to transmission problems.
The JOBS Act seems to make the assumption these same low VHF frequencies (formerly used for analog channels 2-5 would be viable for DTV broadcasts. However, it is ultimately broadcasters who will have to make this decision since the move would be strictly voluntary.
In addition to the potential issues for broadcasters, such a move could case problems for consumers. Some antennas commonly used for DTV reception aren't well suited for the lower range of the VHF spectrum.
But those are short term considerations. In the long term it seems inevitable TV will ultimately be just another data service absorbed into a common universal connection.
For some people, particularly in rural areas, there is every reason to believe that connection will be wireless due to the cost of running and maintaining wired connections in sparsely populated areas. At some point that will have to mean reallocating frequencies to increase data service options.
While this bill, at least as currently written, may not be the best way to accomplish that, it's something we need to be considering sooner rather than later.
In reality this bill has some major hurdles to overcome before it can be passed. A second provision would free up more spectrum currently used for public safety networks used primarily by state and local governments into a single national frequency range.
Like the DTV move, consolidation of the various public safety networks into a single nationally available range is probably inevitable, but there is significant resistance to it right now.
Another dealbreaker could be a provision forbidding the FCC from putting net neutrality requirements on sales of the newly freed spectrum.
At this point it may be purely hypothetical, but these challenges are realities which will have to be addressed eventually.
Written by: Rich Fiscus @ 6 Dec 2011 12:48