As Congress begins to weigh proposals aimed at freeing up more spectrum to meet the nation's growing demand for wireless broadband devices, groups that could be impacted by those policies are beginning to engage in a lot of finger pointing over which industries are making the most efficient use of their spectrum.
The National Association of Broadcasters fired the first shot earlier this week with a letter to the House and Senate Commerce committees that accused some firms of hoarding spectrum. With calls for broadcasters to voluntarily give up some of their spectrum, NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith said in the letter that more scrutiny should be paid to how other holders are using their spectrum.
Bills have been introduced in Congress that would authorize the Federal Communications Commission to conduct incentive auctions aimed at persuading broadcasters and other spectrum holders to give up some of their spectrum in exchange for a share in the proceeds from the auction of those airwaves. The NAB has said they could live with incentive auctions as long as they are truly voluntary.
In his letter, Smith pointed to public comments from officials with satellite television provider Dish Network and Time Warner Cable to support his claim that some companies are engaged in spectrum "hoarding or "speculation" and called on the lawmakers to ask the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study into the issue.
Smith, a former GOP senator from Oregon, reiterated his claims that some users are hoarding spectrum during a discussion with FCC member Robert McDowell Tuesday at NAB's state leadership conference. During that discussion, Smith again urged the FCC to conduct an inventory of current spectrum use.
Both the Consumer Electronics Association and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association fired back in recent days. NCTA called Smith's letter "disappointing" and said claims that some cable companies are hoarding spectrum is "flat wrong."
In a separate letter Thursday to the House and Senate Commerce committee leaders, NCTA Executive Vice President James Assey noted that several cable companies, including Time Warner Cable, have invested in wireless firms deploying different types of wireless broadband technologies and hold licenses to spectrum that is in the process of being cleared of incumbent license holders.
"NAB's implied suggestion that the government - rather than even consider requiring greater efficiency from the broadcasters - should instead reclaim spectrum purchased at auction for billions of dollars and currently in full compliance with the FCC rules, is patently absurd," Assey, a former Democratic staffer on the Senate Commerce Committee, wrote.
On Tuesday, Consumer Electronics Association President Gary Shapiro also shot back, arguing that NAB is trying to "confuse" lawmakers by "comparing businesses that have paid large amounts for thin slices of spectrum with broadcasters who did not pay for broad swathes of the most desirable spectrum and who are sitting on underused spectrum loaned to them by government. The fast growth in wireless video requires that we repurpose underused spectrum."
Shapiro's group has a strong stake in the debate given that many of its member companies make the wireless devices that need the additional spectrum.