RealTime IT News

Intel Chips in on DTV Transition

WASHINGTON - The federal deficit, it turns out, may be just the thing to launch WiMAX as an alternative broadband pipe to cable and telcos. At least, Intel hopes so.

Both the House and Senate Commerce Committees are under pressure from the Republican leadership to find $4.8 billion each in new revenue to help slice the deficit.

The first House working answer to the challenge is to put the hammer down on broadcasters to get out of their analog spectrum and get on with the digital television (DTV) transition. The vacated spectrum could then be auctioned off for as much as $30 billion to wireless broadband providers.

Under current law, broadcasters are required to turn over their analog spectrum by Dec. 31 of next year. A cleverly worded, broadcaster-inspired caveat to the law, however, renders that deadline almost pointless: if fewer than 85 percent of the homes in a market can receive digital signals, broadcasters may continue to camp out in their analog spectrum.

No spectrum, no auction, no bucks.

To light a fire under the broadcasters, House Commerce Chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.) is proposing a new "date certain" deadline of Dec. 31, 2008, for the broadcasters to vacate their analog spectrum.

That would suit Intel just fine.

"Moore's Law is going to revolutionize Marconi's transmitter," Peter Pitsch, Intel's director of communications policy, told a Barton subcommittee today. "In the past 30 years, microprocessors have increased 1,000 times in speed and decreased 100 times in cost. These phenomenal 'silicon' improvements will produce profound effects in radio technology."

Pitsch told lawmakers the ability to use television spectrum would "accelerate the growth, expand the reach, reduce the cost and improve the quality of broadband wireless service."

He told the House panel that Intel is "particularly excited" about WiMAX , an IEEE technology that is emerging as a likely global standard for high-speed wireless service. Earlier this month, Sprint and Intel announced they are teaming on products and services based on the WiMAX standard.

"WiMAX is expected to improve bandwidth and service while radically reducing radio costs," Pitsch said. "WiMAX should dramatically spur wireless broadband deployment as a third pipe augmenting DSL and cable."

Now, if only wireless broadband providers could lay their hands on the spectrum.

"The big failure in current law is uncertainty. Without it, I'm not sure we're ever going to get there," Barton said.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) expressed concern that the rush to raise cash through a spectrum auction will result in "unrelated budget priorities trumping telecom policy."

Markey and other Democrats say they support a drop-dead deadline to move broadcasters out of the analog spectrum, but they also want a federal subsidy to help the 20 percent of Americans who receive only over-the-air signals to buy converter boxes for analog sets.

Without subsidies, Markey said, "When the date certain arrives, the federal government will still be in the red and [analog] television sets will go black."

While Barton's current "working draft" contains no subsidies, he said Thursday, "I am willing to provide one, $50 rebate toward a digital-to-analog converter box for each exclusively analog, over-the-air, low-income home."

Rep. Fred Upton (D-Mich.) said, "Failure to move to a transition to a date certain ... would be just that, a failure. This would be a major setback."