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Head of FCC sends clear signal on bandwidth limit

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You can barely toast a slice of bread these days without hearing the word "broadband," and it was uttered more than a few times by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski at the Hawaii Association of Broadcasters luncheon yesterday.

Genachowski was introduced at yesterday’s luncheon by another rare HAB guest, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye.

Yes, it is broadcasting that the FCC regulates. However, the kilohertz and megahertz frequencies used by radio and TV stations are hardly the only public airwaves the FCC regulates—there is a vast spectrum of airwaves, measured in hertz.

The FCC also has regulatory authority over spectrum that is vital to our smart phones, tablet computers and other high-tech devices, not to mention equipment used for disaster and emergency communications, telemedicine and more.

"We face a looming spectrum crunch as smart phones and other exciting new devices and applications fuel demand for spectrum that is outpacing the supply," Genachowski said in a June 18 video blog on the FCC’s "Reboot" site.

He told local broadcasters of the challenges the FCC and its Spectrum Task Force face in ensuring the availability of broadband bandwidth for the ever-increasing demand, said Chuck Cotton, HAB secretary-treasurer and vice president and general manager of Clear Channel Radio’s seven Honolulu radio stations.

Genachowski visited first-responders and a telemedicine facility yesterday morning before the HAB luncheon and toured Oceanic Time Warner Cable, a broadband provider to residents and businesses in Hawaii, yesterday afternoon. He also visited the Big Island yesterday.

"It’s nice to see the people that run the various agencies getting out of Washington, coming out into the markets … and finding out how the policies and rules and regulations they implement actually affect real people," Cotton said.

Talk of reallocation of spectrum has some broadcasters concerned about losing spectrum to wireless devices—especially devices that don’t receive radio or TV signals—but Cotton "didn’t detect that (Genachowski) has any plans to take anything away from existing broadcasters. He’s trying to develop a strategy."

"He seems to have the interests of the broadcasters and the public at heart," Cotton said.

Finland just enacted legislation making broadband of at least 1 Mbps a right for every resident and promised speed of 100 Mbps by 2015, according to a BBC report.

Locally it costs an extra premium to receive residential broadband service of between 8 and 14 Mbps.

Part of Genachowski’s stated goal in his broadband effort is to get America ahead of the world in mobile broadband availability to spur innovation and economic development.

AM radio uses kilohertz; FM radio and its HD radio digital sister use megahertz, as does television.

In the case of Clear Channel’s stations, for example, satellite dishes atop its buildings receive programming via C-band and Ku-band satellites, frequencies of which are measured in gigahertz, according to Director of Engineering Dale Machado. The stations also use microwave frequencies (around the mid-900 range of megahertz) to relay signals from point to point in its broadcast infrastructure before it blasts through your car radio into your ears.

Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Advertiser. Reach her by e-mail at erika@staradvertiser.com.

 

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