April 13th, 2010, Las Vegas — Speaking at the National Association of Broadcasters Conference in Las Vegas this morning, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, a bright, young man with a seemingly legitimate sense of humor started by sharing how he has been received a little like the villain around some back alleys of the convention. He went on to describe how journalists are reporting on increasingly diverse platforms, often many at once (the new buzz word for this multi-platform broadcasting is “transmedia ” and it is being used liberally at this year’s show). But this belies the increase in data, much of it wireless being pushed and pulled from millions of devices throughout North America and especially the US.
“We are in the midst of a transformative digital age” but that in a recent study the US broadband infrastructure was recently ranked 40th out of 40 in its rate and capacity for change in order to accommodate increasing demands for broadband space. He noted that today’s typical Smartphone i/o’s 35% more data than ye olde cell phone. A netbook 450%.
“Our country faces a serious issue, and while its not the time to panic, it is the time to plan – [broadband will become] a significant cost to our economy and global competitivenes. In order to deliver the mobile internet future we need new spectrum efficient technologies and spectrum efficient policies.” He invited the broadcasters to a discussion and search for solutions with a disclaimer that not all broadcasters would be exactly excited about the establishment of FCC regulations over broadband to be regulated much like airwaves have been.
The National Association of Broadcasters released a statement in response to the speech delivered by FCC Chairman Genachowski.
NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton released the following statement:
“We welcome an ongoing dialogue with Chairman Genachowski. His remarks on the National Broadband Plan as related to television spectrum reclamation were reassuring, and we will reach back to work with the chairman.
“We also intend to work with the Chairman and his colleagues on the issue of retransmission consent, which we believe is working just as Congress intended. We’re hopeful that policymakers will allow these free market negotiations to continue on behalf of consumers, and not tilt the scales of power in favor of giant cable operators.”
I left the FCC keynote to catch Ray Kurzweil talking about tech and media acceleration in the 21st Century. He was mostly rehashing what he talks about in his books, but after the talk I did ask him what he thought about this concern among the top brass at NAB 2010 over broadband spectrum.
“The spectrum will be there,” Ray responded, smiling calmly. “But it will not just build itself. Someone will have to innovate and create the right technology.” OK at this point I am really just paraphrasing, because even if this is was Ray said, his understanding of the complexity of broadband spectrum and its effects on global markets is likely way over my my own. “It will be a question of what paradigm wins.”
It will be a question of what countries are ready, because they will have a huge market advantage. But it’s not as if broadband spectrum could be exported. The FCC and NAB are talking looming crisis here because everyone is switching to iPads and Androids and there won’t be enough pipe for all the water wanting to rush through. But I don’t know that having to wait for Hulu to buffer will really equate to a national emergency. Am I naive in thinking that things will simply scale with the demand? I mean, billions are already being invested in updating infrastructure by the same companies that are investing in fresh water reserves – they know where the future “gold veins” lay.
One may wonder – if the fiber cable isn’t laid fast enough, can’t we just add massive wireless hubs and relays and use Wi-Fi and 3G / 4G to get all the bandwidth we need? Even as I ask the question, it becomes obvious that this is expressly the issue: there is limited bandwidth in the spectrum and so wireless relays will not be able to be the quick band-aid we might wish for when the far more fragile and tenuous fiber optic infrastructure can’t keep pace with demand.
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