Hazlett on TV White Space: Average Market has Only Eight TV Stations

Television stations currently have nearly exclusive access to prized spectrum via so-called "white spaces" that exist in each TV market to properly space channels to avoid signal collision. In the Federal Trade Commission's plan for digital TV allocation, each TV market would have spectrum for 49 digital TV stations. Much of that space, which could be used for wireless communications, will remain unused.

"Nobody has 49 channels of over-the-air digital TV," Professor Thomas Hazlett commented to Multichannel News. "The average is eight [stations] per market," he said.

The politically powerful National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) is presently at odds with the White Spaces Coalition, an alliance of technology giants united behind a desire to utilize the airwaves allocated to broadcast TV but which remain unused by any TV station.

Vacant Channels Could Fuzz Up Free TV, Multichannel News, November 5, 2007. By Ted Hearn.

"The effort to force TV stations to share their spectrum could be the front end of a much larger struggle to end free, over-the-air TV in the U.S. Spectrum-hungry innovators are trying to pound home to policymakers that 96 million U.S. homes have at least one TV set connected to cable or satellite TV services, and 245 million Americans go about their business with a wireless phone or PDA that returns Web searches at crawling speed, according to CTIA, the Wireless Association.

"Meanwhile, TV stations directly serve no more than 19 million homes. Under the FCC's digital-TV allocation scheme, each TV market would have spectrum for 49 digital TV stations. But much of the space still is likely to go unused.

"'Nobody has 49 channels of over-the-air digital TV. The average is eight [stations] per market,' said Thomas Hazlett, professor of law and economics at George Mason University, who has long advocated payment plans to move TV stations to pay-TV platforms.

"In Washington today, the political reality is that the NAB's power keeps growing even while consumer reliance on free TV declines -- a paradox that policymakers refuse to confront because it is so hard to take on the NAB when lawmakers want to be on good terms with their local TV and radio stations."