Jan 11, 2010 7:57 AM by Matt Stafford

Battle over the airwaves

The digital television transition is just behind us, but there's a new fight that could cut free television signals to a lot of people. It's a debate that could shape the future of communication and broadcasting.

The debate is growing because broadcasting and wireless technologies are delivered similarly. They use what's called the broadcast spectrum. There's only so much of it and they have to share it. However, as technology increases, that gets difficult.

For more than 50 years, KOAA has put out a signal over the air in Southern Colorado. Things change over time, but the over the air signal keeps reaching homes. The question is for how long.

A wireless lobby group in Washington D.C., CTIA, says the industry needs more signal access and they want the federal government to look into it.

"I think we all know that the (wireless) usage is growing," says Christopher Guttmann-McCabe. "Perhaps most importantly, you look around the world, and the other countries get this and they are preparing for it."

Wireless technology is growing quickly, but should that continue at the expense of others?

"We don't think we have to jeopardize the future of free, over the air television to accomplish some of the goals that the government is seeking," explains Dennis Wharton, a vice president for the National Association of Broadcasters.

The plan suggested would make broadcasters cut their signal power. So instead of using one tower to reach a large area, they would need more low-power transmitters reaching several smaller areas.

Local President for the Society of Broadcast Engineers, Scott Barella, says the suggestion has gaps.

"The crunch for broadband isn't in rural communities, so the proposal right out of the chute dismisses rural coverage all together," says Barella.

This means outside of larger cities, free local television could be cut to thousands of people. It's a fight that broadcasters and those in the wireless technology industry are looking to lawmakers to settle.

Right now there are two bills in Congress dealing with the broadcast spectrum. One is in the House and the other is in the Senate. They're designed to take a look at who is using spectrum in each market so they can prepare to use is more efficiently in the future.



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