The Federal Communications Commission plans to make broadband internet service available to every house in America. By house, the commission means every domicile and every factory and every business. Every building other than the cow shed will have a broadband coaxial or fiber optic wire entering the structure in some appropriate place.
At the same time the FCC is taking steps to release for use the “white space” within the radio spectrum assigned to broadcast television. For those of us who aren’t communications engineers, the white space is the frequency spectrum that lies between the broadcast channels on your television set. Most of us no longer use the broadcast channels, not directly. Most of us are hooked up to some cable or satellite system and we get all our signals from there.
However, back in the day, in Anniston, Alabama, there were three channels, all out of Birmingham, that were broadcast into my home. If memory serves me, and it rarely dose a very good job of service now days, they were channels 6, 13 and another I can’t recall. (See, I told you my memory is providing increasingly poor service.) They were the local Birmingham affiliates of NBC, CBS and ABC. The channels between, say six and thirteen, showed only a whitish sort of fuzz. This was because all the channels were analog signals. Analog signals tended to waver and wander around the radio spectrum, never content to stay in their proper, assigned range. To prevent the bleeding of one signal into another, causing confusion and frustration for everybody concerned, wide swaths of radio spectrum were reserved and not assigned, not in the service area, to any other broadcaster or other potential spectrum user, a police radio system for instance.
This dividing spectrum is the so-called “white space” so named for the whitish fuzz we used to see when we happened upon one of these channels.
With the massive movement of consumers to cable and satellite systems and the subsequent requirement that all broadcast television stations still in operation switch to a digital system and abandon the analog systems, all this white space spectrum reservation is no longer needed. There are lots of folk who would like to access and control this new spectrum. However, the FCC has decided it would be best allocated to use as an enormous “pipeline” for voice, data, audio and video transmission over the internet. By doing so, the FCC will create enough radio spectrum all over North American to allow for broadband wireless internet service everywhere.
The combination of all the wiring and all this wireless spectrum expansion should make broadband internet service available to every living thing on the continent.
But, many commentators and FCC watchers believe, the FCC wants to go much further. The Commission, it appears, wants to make the folk who insert the wire into your “fire,” so to speak, primarily common carriers, not primarily purveyors of content and service. Many have reached this conclusion due to the FCC’s desire to have a common standard for communication interface established for all signals entering the building.
In English, this seems to mean that the FCC wants everybody to have a box that will allow them to receive any signal running over the internet, through a wire or from a wireless provider, to which the consumers have an entitlement, i.e., they aren’t stealing the signal.
As a practical matter, such a setup would allow a consumer, you, for instance, to order up on demand (when you are good and ready) just the cocktail of content (only the shows you want) and not have to settle for the bundles of shows the cable company chooses to offer. It is presumed you could cut a much better deal buying some mus- see mini series directly from HBO, for instance, than you will get acquiring the HBO signal as one of many cable channels that come in a pre-set bundle. Better still, a decent God-fearing football fan could order up a season ticket to the Georgia Tech games without having to suffer through more evidence of Coach Saban’s deal with the Devil that is Alabama. Not only could we get it, we should be able to get it at less cost than the current system requiring us to allow Satan’s spawn into our homes.
Of course, if your home is a vigorous and profligate consumer of television fare, the cable bundles may be a cheaper alternative. If on the other hand, you like to download Netflix when you feel like it and only watch a little news, the National Geographic and high and mighty cultural events (see GA Tech football, above), the proposed system could be a real money saver and incredible convenience.
Of course, the evidence to the contrary illustrated by the thirty billion dollar acquisition of NBC Universal by Comcast notwithstanding, cable companies aren’t stupid. They can see the writing on the wall. The ideas put forth by the FCC and reveled here are not fixed. “There is many a slip twixt the cup and lip,” as the saying goes. There are also many a lobbyist twixt the public good and the law.
Be aware that this little slice of video heaven is no sure thing. If you generally are in favor of freedom and think your right to choose and save money is sort of nice, you should give some thought to beating up your local Congressperson and/or U S Senator as well as offer you opinion on the subject to the FCC. Rest assured your stalwart elected officials are susceptible to “persuasion” by the various lobbyists working for the companies whose oxen are approaching the FCC’s goring pit.
As for me, I am an overweight, sixty yeasr old, plus, man who was never very lovely to begin with. The idea of possessing a magic box that will require the beautiful, rich and creative among us to compete for my attention each and every day is appealing.