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Trade group sets off debate over spectrum 'hoarding'

Grant Gross, IDG News Service | March 18, 2011
A TV trade group is asking why its members should give up additional spectrum for mobile broadband.

NAB's claims of mobile carriers being spectrum hoarders is an "astonishing display of denial and false accusation," Marsh wrote.

Still, NAB points to instances where spectrum holders have no immediate plans. DISH Network, the satellite TV company, paid $711 million for a near-nationwide swath of spectrum in the 2008 700MHz auctions.

During a November conference call on DISH's third-quarter earnings, a participant asked DISH President and CEO Charles Ergen about the company's plans for its 70MHz holdings. Ergen called the spectrum an "investment."

"It's a building block, potentially strategically, for things we might want to do in the future," he said, according to a transcript on "It is, as it turns out, a pretty good inflation hedge, and they're not making any more of that spectrum. If we're not able to strategically do something with that spectrum, then there's probably other people who are able to do that."

DISH has been "very conservative" about building out the spectrum without knowing what it wants to do with it yet, Ergen added. "I don't know whether our timing's right or not on 700MHz," he said. "At some point, that will be a valuable spectrum to somebody. And if we can figure out a way to use it, that's good. If we can't, then somebody else will own it."

DISH has used past spectrum allocations to deliver service to its customers, said Marc Lumpkin, the company's director of corporate communications. In the 700MHz spectrum, "we're exploring the best use of it," he said.

Some mobile users question whether the carriers are efficiently using the spectrum they now have, said Robb Topolski, a veteran networking engineer and frequent critic of the large carriers. Topolski questioned poor coverage by Verizon on parts of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

"Our wireless spectrum is a public asset and we lease it like we lease other public assets for the public good," he said. "When it is sold, it is sold with the intention that it will be used -- it does someone good. Hoarding it provides none of those public benefits, and the government ought to reclaim any unused bandwidth and put it to work for the people."


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