RealTime IT News

DTV Delay Can't Deter Verizon, White Spaces Fans

DTV and White Spaces
As the Federal Communications Commission scrambles to cope with first major wave of the digital-television transition, wireless providers and other tech firms are plowing ahead with their ambitious plans for the analog spectrum that will be vacated once the switchover is completed.

That's in spite of the fact that the spectrum won't be available for commercial use until June 12, thanks to a recent act of Congress that delayed the deadline for TV stations to vacate the airwaves, though some 421 television stations still went ahead and shut off their analog signals yesterday.

Chief among those pressing onward is Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ) and Vodafone (NYSE: VOD), and the company with the most skin in the spectrum game. This morning at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the company gave the world its first glimpse of its plans to upgrade to a much-anticipated 4G wireless broadband network using the soon-to-be vacated spectrum.

But companies pushing for the government to open up the buffer zones between TV stations, known as white spaces, are also not backing down in their efforts. Since the FCC concluded its auction of the 700MHz spectrum freed up by the DTV transition, a number of tech firms have thrown their weight behind white spaces -- including players like Google, who failed to win a chunk of the 700MHz airwaves.

The news comes as industry players and federal regulators continue wrestling with how to wring advanced new services from television spectrum, a quandary that gained a new wrinkle with the DTV delay. With analog broadcasts on their way out thanks to the digital switchover, the vacated spectrum has been earmarked for a host of new uses, but the government-mandated delay isn't hitting all the players equally.

The push for postponing the DTV transition started to gather steam early this year, after it became clear that millions of Americans were unprepared for the switchover and would lose their signals if broadcasters held to the original date of Feb. 17. President Obama and a substantial majority of lawmakers called for the delay to buy the government more time to educate consumers about the transition and clear the backlog in the program to distribute coupons for the converter boxes needed to keep older sets working.

Verizon, along with AT&T (NYSE: T), the other big winner in last year's spectrum auction, supported a one-time delay, provided that the new date would be set in stone, as key members of Congress promised it would be.

Who got stung?

One player that had been vigorously opposed to the DTV delay was Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM). The company best known as a chipset maker for mobile devices has been pushing MediaFLO, a service that delivers live TV to a cell phone -- and has had its eyes set on a launch in connection with the original DTV transition date.

In January, Qualcomm announced an ambitious roll-out schedule for MediaFLO with plans to make the service available to 200 million consumers in 100 markets across the country. At the time, the company said the market launch would "commence within weeks of the Feb. 17, 2009 digital television (DTV) transition date and continue throughout the year."

[cob:Special_Report]Qualcomm was also a heavy bidder in last year's auction, snapping up spectrum in the so-called E block that is conducive to mobile video services.

Qualcomm did not respond to requests for comment for this story, but the company's opposition to the DTV delay has been well documented.

Following the House passage of the DTV delay bill, Stifel Nicolaus telecom analyst Rebecca Arbogast noted that "the fallout on industry appears to be limited, with the exception of Qualcomm, which is anxious to use the spectrum for its MediaFLO service."

Page 2: Verizon's gambit