Aereo's influence could open more spectrum for mobile broadband

Mobile broadband providers could gain access to more TV broadcast spectrum under a developing Senate bill that would essentially punish any broadcaster that moves certain programming from over-the-air availability to cable by requiring the FCC to auction that broadcaster's spectrum.

Multichannel News, citing multiple sources, said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is writing the bill, which is primarily aimed at giving cable and satellite operators the option of offering à la carte service or losing the blanket license that allows them to carry broadcast programming without having to negotiate individually for rights to carry the programming. But it is the Aereo-related provision of the bill that could have significant implications for mobile broadband spectrum, particularly in major TV markets being targeted by Aereo.

CBS and Fox are among broadcast entities that have threatened to yank their free over-the-air signals in order to thwart Aereo, which currently converts broadcast signals into HTML5 for distribution to customers in the New York area. Customers can then view broadcast TV on smartphones, tablets and other IP-connected devices.

Broadcasters have failed to obtain an injunction that would require Aereo to shut down. The copyright-based dispute could eventually make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt recently told analysts that if Aereo continues to prevail in the courtroom, there will be dramatic changes in store for broadcasters."If it is found to be legal, then I think it has very interesting implications for the whole broadcast and broadcast network ecosystem and for the future of retrans," he said.

Aereo announced in April that it would begin signing up customers in Boston on May 15. The company said in January that it would launch in 22 cities this year, including Miami, Austin, Texas, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Detroit, Denver, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

If TV broadcasters in those cities shift their operations to cable due to Aereo's rollout, they could be forced to hand over their spectrum to the FCC under McCain's developing bill.

Likewise, if broadcasters opt to make the shift to cable sooner rather than later, they might also be more inclined to voluntarily give up their broadcast spectrum for the 600 MHz incentive auctions being planned by the FCC for next year. Broadcast TV spectrum in major U.S. markets will be the most sought after by mobile operators, which need additional frequencies in dense urban areas that are plagued with growing network congestion. At this point, a major unknown is how many licenses 600 MHz will be made available and in which markets because it is unclear at this point how many broadcasters will participate in the incentive auctions.

The 2008 auction of 700 MHz frequencies--the so-called "digital dividend" spectrum gleaned from spectrum giving up by broadcasters forced to shift from analog to digital TV broadcasts--was the last major wireless spectrum auction conducted by the FCC.

For more:
- see this Multichannel News article
- see this TVNewsCheck article

Special Report: FierceWireless' spectrum auction guide: What you need to know about the upcoming auctions

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