Why Is The US Strip Mining Radio Spectrum?

Written by on February 20, 2012 in AM/Medium Wave, Curmudgeon Essays - 40 Comments
Print Friendly

For many months, now stretching into years, the Curmudgeon has been searching for logical explanations to a bedrock fundamental question, the very one which underlies almost all of his recent blog postings:

Why is the United States (and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the rest of the First World) consuming, burning up, pillaging the finite amount of radiofrequency spectrum at a rapid, accelerating, and unsupportable rate?

Why are we (in this North American society) in effect “strip mining” this gift, this natural resource, primarily just for short term financial gain and/or transient pleasure?  What will we do after the entire available spectrum is consumed and the demand for still more spectrum continues unabated, after all the “administrative fixes” and other sleight-of-hand spectrum management tricks have been applied and still there is not enough?  When, as a result of ever increasing spectrum loading, ambient noise levels continue to rise and coverage areas continue to shrink?



What will we do when we find ourselves as a society and an economy trying to shovel six new pounds of puppy poop into our sole remaining one pound bag?

From much pondering and thinking about the problem a tentative “first cut” at a general explanation did finally emerge, and it is presented here for discussion, along with a proposed approach for a solution.

The Curmudgeon has used the following list of observations, all from his personal experience, as part of the work toward a first tentative answer.

1.  A young saleslady at an electronics store operated by a well-known nationwide chain cannot answer the question “can this TV set (which I am considering buying) receive over-the-air television broadcasting?,” a medium of which she has no knowledge.

2.  A middle-level IT manager, needing to transfer one of his wire line digital networks onto a public wireless platform, cannot understand that wireless networks do not have the inherent transmission reliability of an Ethernet system, and that different wireless carriers have different service area coverage maps.

3.  Cellular telephone base station technicians have never heard of the equivalent private land mobile radio networks, and in any case have no interest in learning anything new beyond the details of their own field of employment.

4.  Employees in an IT department in a large corporation sit at their desks making cell phone calls (on company-funded commercial mobile carrier accounts) while their desk telephones are at easy arms’ reach.

5.  Many, probably a majority, of Amateur radio operators have no idea at all what kinds of radio services co-share the spectrum, even one kilohertz outside the edges of their own ham bands.

6.  Computer owners reflexively install “wireless routers” in their homes and apartments and accept potential security problems and range-reduction from RF congestion, rather than to do a one-time installation of Ethernet cable.

7.  AM radio broadcasters complain about “excessive ambient radio noise” and reduction of their coverage contours in the urban areas that they serve, leading to increasing inability of their audience to receive usable service from the broadcasters.

In the Curmudgeon’s judgment all of these situations largely, but certainly not uniquely, point toward a common source, one basic origin:

The citizens of the United State, in overwhelming numbers, do not understand at a conscious level that the radiofrequency spectrum exists as a physical medium, that it is a finite resource which they themselves own, and that it is in some respects a “fragile” structure requiring attention. 


Little Public Spectrum Education Is Offered in The US.


The average, even the well-educated, citizen of the United State is clueless about this.  Few know of the existence of electromagnetic fields, and even fewer are conversant with how the fields lay out and are used for practical needs.  No individual outside of the wireless industries could begin to place even a rough economic value on this unique natural resource, and in today’s economy it is the “cost” of something which determines how it is treated.  “Free goods,” which are not subject to “full-cost accounting” and thus whose prices do not include their real environmental costs, are almost always squandered, and today the use of the radiofrequency spectrum is, for consumers, a free good.  (Cellular telephone carriers and broadcasters, of course, have a radically different view of this!)

Is it therefore surprising that consumers are smitten by the idea of doing all their communications (in the general sense of the term) and their entertainment “wirelessly,” and that many manufacturers of consumer goods look at no-cost use of the radiofrequency spectrum as a quick, cheap, and easy way to increase their sales?

What practical need does the public have for understanding the existence, limitations, and liabilities of the spectrum?  Why shouldn’t they just continue to “flow their individual lives onto the spectrum” and never think twice about what they are doing?  For them, generally, there has always been “sufficient spectrum” into which to expand their needs and, to be accurate about this problem, most areas of the country and most radio services didn’t begin to experience serious spectrum shortages until perhaps the beginning of the 1990s.  It’s a fairly new problem, but one that is growing in seriousness and urgency.

The place to have once learned something about the spectrum is in the elementary and secondary schools, but elementary school teachers generally are not well-conversant and comfortable with science (and math) and in secondary schools only a tiny percentage of U.S. students (i.e., the “nerds”) study physics.

Even in the small number of surviving high school physics classes, the curriculum unit on the EM spectrum flashes rapidly by, with just a mention that “radio lies between this frequency point and that point, while above it……..”  Even five minutes in a physics class spent discussing the basic structure of radio applications (transmission, wave propagation, and reception) and mentioning some of the services which occupy the spectrum would be a “great leap forward” in public understanding.

In engineering schools the EM spectrum often gets short-shrift.  ME, CE, BioE., and Comp.E students will get very little exposure to it, and even within the EE field “electromagnetics” isn’t a high priority subject area when compared to DSP, digital circuit design, solid-state devices, etc.  Consequently many engineers themselves aren’t able to discuss the topic knowledgeably with their non-engineering friends.

If the electromagnetic spectrum could at least be recognized by the general population as a publicly-owned natural resource that needs to be kept sustainable, there would be some basis for hope.  Proposals, for instance, to massively log and clear-cut Yellowstone National Park would almost certainly be met with strong opposition from a public that is knowledgeable about the damages that would result from this action.  They would raise considerations about long-term resource sustainability versus short term profit.  The same kind and degree of response should result from proposals to strip-mine the radiofrequency spectrum.

But there is precedent for public action on radiofrequency conservation from other independent efforts already occurring in a different part of the electromagnetic spectrum.  Terrestrial astronomers have had some success in dealing with “light pollution,” created by the existence of indiscriminate outdoor illumination within large cities during the hours of darkness.  The increased city light fluxes, when scattered by atmospheric particles (thus producing, i.e., “noise” in our working vocabulary), diminish the astronomers’ ability to receive very small numbers of photons from distant stars and galaxies.  So the astronomers have begun working with local governments to institute more efficient (and controlled) nighttime lighting and thus to lower their local background noise levels.  And they have had reasonable successes with their efforts.

If one technical field has shown the path, why cannot we, the (relatively low frequency) occupants of the same spectrum, follow their lead?

A tentative list of the goals for a program of going to the public with a campaign for education and spectrum cleansing would include:

1.  Bringing to general public awareness the existence, function, ownership, uses, and need for sustainability of the radiofrequency spectrum.

2.  Making the public aware of the economic value of the spectrum as a limited natural resource.

3.  In view of the natural scarcity of spectrum, leading a new public discussion of a prioritization of uses for the spectrum.

4.  Sponsoring a campaign for reclamation, abatement, and clean-up of human-caused radio noise pollution, including non-radio electrical noise generators.  This would include pressing for both “efficiency” in individual applications (i.e., the “most bang per input watt” and the least perturbation of the general radio noise level for each proposed RF application).  This is in line with other conservation campaigns, both for increased energy efficiency and for reduction of pollution from various kinds of sources.


The IEEE Has resources to Lead Spectrum Education


Finally, there is the question as to who should be the “point man” to conduct the campaign.

The Curmudgeon has an initial recommendation.  It should be the IEEE, the largest professional organization which deals with “matters electrique.”  They have both the stature and the experience to conduct this campaign, which might well begin with increasing their own members’ understanding of the spectrum.  The IEEE has already published some articles dealing with radiofrequency spectrum matters in their general interest engineering magazine Spectrum and thus has an existing understanding of the problems.

The very notion that the citizens of the United State could actually understand this matter of great natural and economic importance and could participate in gaining effective control of the existing problems is astounding!  But the Curmudgeon has faith that it could be done.  Wouldn’t this be a fine time to get it started?

What do you think?

“Let’s save the universe for RF!”

The Old RF Curmudgeon
(A conservative conservationist)

Since 1963, LBA has been providing RF equipment and engineering consulting services for radio and television broadcast and wireless communications.


40 Comments on "Why Is The US Strip Mining Radio Spectrum?"

  1. Christopher Marson March 2, 2012 at 10:23 am · Reply

    You might be interested in reading this. Mamma Mia! Pasta-shaped radio waves allow for an INFINITE number of channels to be broadcast and received

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2108794/Pasta-shaped-radio-waves-allow-INFINITE-number-channels-broadcast-received.html#ixzz1nxmjh9Ri

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. Paul T. Lucci March 2, 2012 at 11:08 am · Reply

    Talk about technical naivete, I marvel at the people rushing to sign up for their cable company’s bundle package so they can reduce their phone bill. To their amazement, the phone doesn’t work when the cable or power is out. So they turn to their cell phones to find a “network busy” message because everyone is trying to access the cellular network at the same time. It happened during the last hurricane here.

    BTW, the POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) was unaffected. Still got a dial tone.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  3. Denny R March 2, 2012 at 11:38 am · Reply

    Let’s see…..how about allowing lawmakers to develop laws based on lobbying and campaign contributions so that private industry can cash-in on fad-based spectrum use rather than need or technical merit?

    I believe it is clear to everyone that watching randomly-accessed re-run movies on your cell phone is far more important than police, military or EMS communications.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  4. Bill Croghan March 2, 2012 at 12:29 pm · Reply

    I think your faith in the ability of anyone anywhere to understand the probelms of a less then infinite spectrum is over done. I suspect it will only become a problem they recognize when the overuse of spectrum will start to impact the actual use of bluetooth, wireless keyboards, wireless car locks, and all of the other “convenience” uses to whcih said spectrum is used..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  5. Shawn Williams, P. Eng, March 2, 2012 at 4:38 pm · Reply

    Hello Lawrnence, its Friday so I went to the site and had a read, very interesting,,,,,,it reminds me of when one of the networks I worked for wanted to go FM at one of its sites for the freq response, dymanic range yada yada (I think it was suppose to be cool as well). I can even remember calling the car dealers to see how many cars coming in to the little town would have FM radios…h. I kept trying to say.. but.. but you are in a remote very hill area and when you get over the second hill from town or want to listen in your cabin, there would be no service. We did the change and then everyone complained about the no service, so much they had to keep the AM for a few years more…. I am an old HAM from way back and can remember all kinds of huge beams I made and doing moon bounces etc. I think as you say, people only understand a narrow bandwidth and very little dynamic range of the freq spectrum anymore…. I do not think anyone would even understand time domain or frequency domain….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  6. Bob McCone March 2, 2012 at 4:47 pm · Reply

    I guess the idea of “public” airwaves is a thing of the past. Once gone, there’s no getting it back.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  7. George Ferenz March 2, 2012 at 4:48 pm · Reply

    Political my foot! It is about money and power. He who has a frequency will gladly rent it out to you for a price!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  8. George Ferenz March 2, 2012 at 4:49 pm · Reply

    Political maybe, but it is all about money and control. Yes the politicians are selling off the bands, but the folks who buy the frequencies stand to make great wealth from the frequencies as they are rented out. The control of information will will present one viewpoint only – and the population will only know whatever they are fed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. Greer Kemp March 2, 2012 at 8:20 pm · Reply

    Sadly, as you say, the problem begins at the education level, and until that is addressed, there is no way for the general public to understand even the basic technicalities – again, as you point out, even many engineers in the electronics and broadcasting fields avoid the subject a little as anything to do with RF is often considered a bit of a black art… If people with extensive technical knowledge avoid it, what hope for the average bod?
    Educating the people about this subject is going to require extensive media coverage, well thought out campaigns with very simplified “dumbed down” concepts, and lots of time – the problem is that what we are considering here is educating people to the abuse of the spectrum, using the very organisations and systems that are actively involved in that abuse…are they going to be interested in helping? I wonder…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. John Marshall March 3, 2012 at 10:32 am · Reply

    1. Most televisions are capable of receiving over the air television. You can look at the label next the F connector or read the manual and find out for your self. It is not reasonable to expect a salesperson to know how to hookup a television.

    2. That is just plain stupid. The IT manager could get a job in Oregon pumping gasoline.

    3. Funny, many of the cellular base stations are connected to the MTSO through landline T-1 or T-2.

    4. Alas, no brains, no headaches.

    5.True. And little understanding of the propagation characteristics of the bands that they operate on. New hams are not very technical and appear to have little interest in learning.

    6. Apartment dwellers can not install their own wiring. However, range reduction is not such a bad thing. Unfortunately UTP cable radiates RF noise as well.

    7. Where is that noise coming from in the broadcast band? But then, who is listening?

    Wired networks will continue to be faster and more secure than wireless networks.

    Over the air television generally uses less compression than satellite or cable resulting in superior picture quality. I receive 55 different program channels with a simple UHF antenna. After seeing my television picture, several of my neighbors dropped cable too.

    There are many unused television channels in each market. With digital modulation channels could be adjacent (-28dB isolation).

    There are several amateur radio bands that are under utilized; 10m, 1-1/4m, 33cm and above. Years ago I would ragchew on 6m now another dead band.

    There 11m band is now a wasteland. It has been larlely replaced with cellular telephones and FSR.

    Clearwire was a mighty poor implementation of of WiMAX. Now a lost cause. Craig McCaw usually produces winners but not this time.

    IEEE is doing things:
    802.18 Radio Regulartory
    802.19 Coexistance TAG
    802.20 Mobile Wireless Access
    802.21 Media Independent Handoff
    802.22 Wireless Regional Area Network

    You may join then create your own Technical Advisory Group or Work Group.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Curmudgeon March 7, 2012 at 11:34 am · Reply

      Mr. Marshall:

      There is much in your comment to which response could be made, but the Curmudgeon will take just one minor nit from it for picking: “Years ago I would ragchew on 6m now another dead band.”

      This is an Amateur Radio Service band for which I have some personal expertise; I have operated on the band fixed, mobile, and portable since 1959, using FM, AM, SSB, and CW emissions. I modernized the post-WW II FCC Part 97 technical operating Rules for this band with four Petitions for Rule Making that were adopted by the FCC during the 1970s and 1980s. I have also built and operated an Amateur repeater on this band.

      You are correct: years ago the band was a fine place for a local ragchew. And in those days local ARS communities supported the band with informal daily contacts, on organized nets, and even with coffee klatch meetings. Why did it all change?

      It changed for several reasons. First, the popularization of ARS 2 meter FM emissions and repeaters in the 1970s shifted the local communications load almost entirely over to that band.

      Second, the inclusion of this band in a new generation of Amateur HF transceivers, along with the introduction of the Maidenhead Grid Square locator system, brought the HF bands contest operators to it and they transformed six meters into a contest band. “Monitor the band daily and go on-air when Sporadic E propagation occurs, work new squares, and then close down and wait for the next occurrence.”

      Third, six meter repeaters never became popular. Despite the low VHF frequency, they are expensive and difficult to build and to make work properly.

      Finally, the use of the band was always limited by the presence of television Channel 2 (54 – 60 MHz) broadcasting adjacent to the band and the ever-present possibility of television interference from Amateur transmitters (TVI).

      During the US digital television transition almost all these Channel 2 broadcast stations moved their operations to the UHF television band. But the Amateurs (and the general public) don’t know about this movement because the broadcasters and the FCC have worked together to prevent broad publication of the actual RF channel assignments for digital television broadcasting.

      The old “Channel 2 logo” still waves from the station ID screen, although the station may actually be broadcasting on Channel 39 now. The PSIP embedded in the digital transmitted signal simultaneously sorts out the correct operating RF and virtual channels for the television tuner and keeps viewers in the dark about its identity. Great job, FCC! And thus the band isn’t used as widely as it now could be.

      But I’ve saved the “dirty little secret” about the band for the end. In my over fifty years of observation, there hasn’t been one serious challenge to the Amateur’s use of the band. None. The band is viewed as junk spectrum and no one else wants it, as least currently.

      Other respondents have described the shared allocations for the Amateur bands > 420 MHz. Sorry for the length and detail here. It just happens to be one of my special interests.


      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. Curmudgeon March 3, 2012 at 12:22 pm · Reply

    @Christopher Marson -

    Mr. Marson:

    This newly-announced multiplexing technique might be an answer to the problem highlighted in my blog piece. Or it might not.

    The major question to be determined is whether the new concept can be reduced to commercial practice. What would be the amount of difficulty to manufacture equipment, the costs, reliability, robustness, adaptability to changing propagation conditions, etc.? These are not yet known.

    And the regulatory consequences? If a licensee who adopts this technique achieves an N-fold increase in his channel capacity, will he be willing to accept a 1/N reduction in his licensed channel bandwidth? If not, there cannot be spectrum reclamation.

    The First Law of Thermodynamics states, roughly, that “nothing ever comes free,” so Mr. Claude Shannon must also be consulted. Mr. Shannon says that for constant channel bandwidth and circuit reliability, an increase in channel data throughput requires a proportionate increase in signal-to-noise ratio in the channel. Of course that means either higher transmitter power, shorter path distances, or use of forward error correction (which lowers channel throughput).

    Most new concepts are never reduced to commercial practice, but a few are. This might be one of them. However, it still would not solve the problem highlighted in the posting: the spectrum usage decisions are being made now, on the basis of today’s technology. And reclaiming already-allocated spectrum is not an easy proposition (cf., the current television broadcast spectrum conundrum).


    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. Curmudgeon March 3, 2012 at 12:24 pm · Reply

    @Bill Croghan -

    Mr. Croghan:

    An alternative statement of the problem: The public will begin caring about air pollution exactly at the time when the percentage of oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere drops sufficiently that gasoline can no longer be combusted in automobile engines.

    The public response in both cases: Incredulity, panic, scapegoating, etc. Public responses to some issues are fairly easily predictable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  13. Gregory A. Gabaldon March 3, 2012 at 1:48 pm · Reply

    Quite simple – revenue. Each spectrum auction generates $$ to govt coffers. Some entities, such as Amateur Radio, have relatively large allotments so the govt whittles away the bandwidths of lesser used (or so perceived) frequencies.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  14. Greer Kemp March 3, 2012 at 1:50 pm · Reply

    The US obviously think they own the world, and they can do what they like. The theft of the public airwaves began years ago, and is continuing apace. The push to shift broadcasters into ever narrower slots in the spectrum is driven by the greed of a few to the ultimate detriment of the many… We used to have controls in place to stop the huge corporations from owning or controlling too many different media channels, such as radio, television, and newspapers, and of course we would have added to that the internet, had the controls not been removed to allow for greater profits, and more importantly, easy access to mass media for political purposes…we have allowed the herd of cats out of the bag I’m afraid…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  15. Greer Kemp March 3, 2012 at 1:56 pm · Reply

    Sadly, as you say, the problem begins at the education level, and until that is addressed, there is no way for the general public to understand even the basic technicalities – again, as you point out, even many engineers in the electronics and broadcasting fields avoid the subject a little as anything to do with RF is often considered a bit of a black art… If people with extensive technical knowledge avoid it, what hope for the average bod?
    Educating the people about this subject is going to require extensive media coverage, well thought out campaigns with very simplified “dumbed down” concepts, and lots of time – the problem is that what we are considering here is educating people to the abuse of the spectrum, using the very organisations and systems that are actively involved in that abuse…are they going to be interested in helping? I wonder…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  16. Scott Todd March 3, 2012 at 1:58 pm · Reply

    Don’t be so quick to cry “corporate greed” but look at their political connections as well. Lightsquared has deep ties to this administration and will almost certainly do their bidding. Essentially this problem is one of increasing fascism. (Yes, I used the “f” word!)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  17. Jim Medlock March 3, 2012 at 2:01 pm · Reply

    Greg, I think you have missed the real reason, as do most. This spectrum issue is truly the last “land grab” right out of the history books. The carriers have figured that if they “own’ all the available spectrum, anyone or any entity which wants to use spectrum for business, safety, or personal reasons will have to pay them a use fee. That equates to monopolistic complete control, and enormous monthly revenue stream for their financial portfolios. Just think of it: You pay for your cellular, and pay for your WiFi, and pay for your broadband LTE connection, and pay for your internet connection, and pay for streaming media, and yo pay for audio media, and you pay taxes which pay for voice and data connectivity for public safety, municipal services (snow plowing, road repair, etc) and you pay for that ambulance and fire truck response which in turn pays the carrier for voice and data connectivity, and you pay taxes which pays for that radio connectivity during disasters and emergencies… Yes, Greg, I think you have missed the issue, and that is You pay, and pay, and pay out of your pocket, and it ends up with the carriers. The FCC auctions and $ to US Treasury coffers is minor and secondary to the real issue…. You, the tax payer, pay, pay, pay, pay……..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  18. John Baker March 4, 2012 at 10:08 pm · Reply

    Another side affect of the spectrum looting is the death of the “Fiber to every home” Program that was started in the 90s.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  19. R. Morgan Burrow Jr., PE March 5, 2012 at 11:01 am · Reply

    What shape are the ball gaps in on the AM tower? Is the gap set appropriately for the AM power level? Is the ground system in the immediate vicinity of the tower base in good condition? Does a direct connection (copper strap) exist from the ground side of the ball gap to the grounding ring for the radial ground system? Is the isocoupler properly rated for the AM power level or RF voltage across the base insulator? Is the ground side of the isocoupler case adequately strapped to the ground system?

    Last but not least is the matter of FCC compliance; have the base impedance remeasured for direct power measurement compliance, especially if repairs were made. The compliance requirement for a AM directional station with isocouplers serving tower-mounted antennas is more detailed.

    It should be understood that no work should be done to repair or replace an isocoupler installed on a AM tower unless ALL RF is shut off, transmitters locked out, and the tower jumpered to ground while work is underway.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. Lynn Rowe March 5, 2012 at 11:07 am · Reply

    Once national broadcasters were released from the requirement to inform, educate and enlighten the public – News became a business vs. the foundation upon which this democratic republic was built – transparency and trust in the public to make up its own mind about topics of the day has been replaced by the need of news networks to have access to political types inorder to drive their business profitability. The old news divisions bottomlines were considered a license fee for national distribution frequencies. This is no longer the case.

    He who has the most lobbists wins; purchases the “peoples” airwares.

    Frankly, someone should sue the FCC as their original mandate was to ensure non interference as well as the maximization of the public good, not the private good.

    What happened to the well established principles and tactics of common carrier principles that were constructed to rebalance the economy after the era of the robber barron.

    The general education of the citizenry is so poor that even the basics of US economic history are a mystery to most.

    Welcome to the United Oligarcy of America

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. R. Morgan Burrow Jr., PE March 5, 2012 at 11:08 am · Reply

    Mr. Rowe, agree in principle that a lawsuit may be the answer but with the Supreme Court loaded with “corporate hacks” rather than “justices”, please explain how a lawsuit would prevail in that environment. Sounds like there would have to be a lot of dismantling of “consolidation of media outlets”, revert to the older “5 per market” rule, require the licensee to reside or maintain a full time office within the proscribed coverage contour, revert to the most qualified to hold a media license, just to name a few. As long as “government by the rich for the rich” instead of “government by the people for the people” prevails, the American economy will “circle the drain”. If change is really wanted, the American people need to get off their butts and vote this November.

    As far as spectrum auctions go, the whole concept is a joke. One vote of Congress wastes more money than any expected revenue from spectrum auctions. The tax rates in effect when LBJ was President were a lot fairer since those making the decisions paid the higher rates. The US dollar was also worth more then, and US jobs outsourcing then was nonexistent or minimal.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. Scott Todd March 5, 2012 at 11:10 am · Reply

    Outsourcing began under LBJ as a way of financing the “Great Society.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  23. Lynn Rowe March 5, 2012 at 11:12 am · Reply

    In practice, the TV networks and others were able until the late 80′s to simply go to the FCC and regional coordinators to apply for frequencies to enable a variety of operational and business objectives which usually costed little more that the application fee, frequency analysis and legal fees for filing. Accordingly, the 70′s and 80′s were noteable for an explosion of wireless technology and business models developed and launched in garage engineering operations across the country; a lot of which was enabled by generations of US military technology development which flowed into the commercial section over time. A far cry from today’s industry dominated by a handful of companies.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. Kris Kirby March 6, 2012 at 9:54 am · Reply

    Because traditionally, the FCC made it’s money off of licensing and enforcement actions. However, enforcement is a tedious business with high costs and low returns. It’s more efficient to sell megahertz in bulk to people who can afford them; the payback versus effort is higher.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  25. Bob Spain March 6, 2012 at 1:31 pm · Reply

    @Gregory A. Gabaldon – The amateur radio bands above 420 MHz are already shared spectrum (military is primary, amateur radio secondary status 420-450 MHz, higher bands are shared with ISM, etc.). The noise floor on the HF bands is high due to electric companies poor maintenance of power lines, consumer devices that have fake part 15 compliance labels, catv leakage, etc.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  26. Steve March 6, 2012 at 2:36 pm · Reply

    It is an interesting topic. Given how much we all rely on a shared spectrum I have often wondered what would happen if one of the “failed states” or the newer islamic/jewish/christian extremist-political movements decided to deliberately jam or otherwise deny the use of spectrum to others. Technically this is not so difficult to do. There is no doubt that a lot of people find the use of global satellite TV technology to distribute material they find offensive (e.g. porn) and i am amazed no one has tried countermeasures to stop it. So from my point of view it is not so much the strip mining I object to but the irresponsible use of the spectrum we have to share and the somewhat asymmetric occupation of the spectrum by the people/countries/companies with the most money. One of the many reasons why the USA (of which I am a major fan) is resented by a lot of people is it’s dominance of the commercial broadcasting industry.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  27. Steve March 6, 2012 at 2:50 pm · Reply

    I am writing this from a Hotel in Budapest, Hungary. There is very little domestic output on the TV here…..but I can watch dubbed American content for hours – CSI (all three franchises), NCIS (two franchises), The Mentalist…..the list goes on….Just a shame I cannot understand Hungarian.

    Please correct me if I am wrong. I believe the USA still has portions of the spectrum set aside for community radio stations operating on a non commercial basis. This is a good thing. I wish it was the same in other countries. In my own country (England) whilst in theory it is possible the big commercial broadcasters have made it practically impossible to do this as they tied the hands of the politicians when the legislation to sell off our chunks of the spectrum was put in place. They argued that they should not pay large amounts of money to use the spectrum if communities could use it for free. The result is a totally bland commercial radio scene in the UK and a complete lack of innovation. Curiously the most innovation goes on in the State owned BBC!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • Curmudgeon March 7, 2012 at 7:43 pm · Reply


      I’ll try to clarify for you the situation with “public radio broadcasting” in the US.

      According to FCC Broadcast Service Rules established in the 1940s, the twenty operating channels on the FM Broadcast sub-band from 88 to 92 MHz are reserved for non-commercial/educational stations. There are no equivalent reserved sub-bands on the broadcast television and AM radio bands for US NC/E stations, although NC/E stations may certainly be licensed there as well. The NC/E reservations also do not extend to FM stations in that sub-band in either Canada or Mexico.

      An FM NC/E station may be operated by a college or university, by a foundation, or by an independent group organized for the purpose. The financial support for the stations comes, in part, from voluntary subscriptions from listeners, a small amount from federal government grants, and from “corporate underwriters,” i.e., commercial businesses whose contributions are “acknowledged” on the air by the stations. Unfortunately the Rules governing underwriting have been loosened in recent years, and many of the acknowledgments are now perilously close to commercial radio “adverts.”

      Many of the FM stations belong to a nation-wide NC/E network, National Public Radio, which supplies national news and entertainment programming. The local stations purchase these programs from NPR, thus funding the network in major part.

      While past attempts to exert political and commercial control over the individual NC/Es and NPR have been made, for the most part they have not been successful. The stations and the network retain creative control of the content that they broadcast. They practice a degree of experimentation and development of new forms of programming, thus keeping the programming interesting.

      The NC/Es’ survival is a testament to the continuing long decline of commercial radio broadcasting in the United States. Burdened by the twin handicaps of a stultifying, repetitive sameness in program content and rampant, endless “adverts” (there are some commercial station that are exceptions, of course), the commercial stations continue to hemorrhage listeners in the Internet age. Little, if any, innovation arises from the commercial stations, save in devising new schemes to retain current listeners.

      I have heard some good, innovative radio programming produced in the UK, with whose broadcasting I am well familiar. We in the US can do it also, when we set our minds to it.

      Spectrum, broadcast or otherwise, should never be sold. It belongs to the citizens of a country, who should derive continuing revenue from the leasing of their spectrum for use by commercial entities.


      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  28. LBwireless March 7, 2012 at 1:09 pm · Reply


    You make a good point on jamming. This has been going on for years, but generally on shortwave and medium wave. The old Soviet bloc practiced it extensively during the cold war, and China does today.

    However, satellite jamming is now being undertaken by the Iranians. Reportedly, this uplink jamming has effects on much more than the target program(s). Some say satellite is rather easily jammed. Comments on that are welcome.

    This malicious jamming of content from BBC, VOA, and others seems good reason to maintain shortwave and high power medium wave capabilities, which are much more difficult to jam. See some blog posts on VOA and other shortwave on http://antennablog.lbagroup.com/.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. John Marshall March 7, 2012 at 1:15 pm · Reply

    I particualarly like 6m as well. During the mid ’60s I operated AM and DSB suppressed carrier. I was a member of a Civil Defense team that used 6m. A ground plane antenna would allow simplex operation throughout much of the Seattle area despite the hilly terrain. Here in Phoenix, I see 6m as a near perfect band for simplex operation throughout the valley.

    I have seen no proposed plans for the frequencies from 54 MHz to 88 MHz now that they are being vacated by television broadcast. And, 72 MHz to 76 MHz ???@Curmudgeon -

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  30. Richard Johnson March 7, 2012 at 5:15 pm · Reply

    That’s where the “instant” money is, with the usual publicly-owned companies working quarter-to-quarter with no overview of the future.

    The major reason why broadcast media (all of it) is dying off is that the content producers want to charge a per-use fee to the end user. That is not possible when the content is broadcast so the broadcast frequencies are being stripped out.. Watch and see. Once everyone is “connected” their media charges will be automatically deducted from their paychecks.

    The reason for Light Squared’s foray into “broadcast” near GPS frequencies is the packets contain destination addresses which will pay-and-pay-and-pay. It was to be a gigantic WiFi with connections to individual paying clients. That is where the money is. Think of the number of clients now attached to the Internet. Suppose ten percent wanted to hear something on iTunes. Suppose they could download that for a dime that they don’t need to pay until the end-of-the-month. How many is that? Check this out http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm and do the math! There is a multibillion dollar industry awaiting to be tapped.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  31. F Muratore March 9, 2012 at 12:38 am · Reply

    @Curmudgeon – The Amateur frequencies have been under fire for a number of years. BPL or broadband over power lines threatens them with excess noise and unwanted interference. Also, UPS and other companies want to use their frequencies for themselves. But, the “Ham Radio Community” serves a purpose. As “No” means of communication is “up and running” in a disaster, except Ham Radio ! They provide a free public service in times of disaster !!! The ARRL is an organization that lobbies to protect “our” spectrum. We should support local ham groups (someday your life could depend on getting a message through)!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  32. Magnus Hedemark March 13, 2012 at 1:22 pm · Reply

    Why aren’t hams making better use of the spectrum we already have?


    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. Kris Kirby March 13, 2012 at 2:24 pm · Reply

    You’ve got to have an interest to want to buy a radio. You’ve got to have a mentor and/or some group of people to talk to and work through the technical issues to bring you up to that level.

    Think about this… if you went out and bought a six meter radio, and the first person you talked to was a socially-defective ham who wanted nothing more than a quick contact and to move along, and you never heard another soul on the band, would you keep the radio around or sell it?

    That’s what it’s like being on 33cm. Oh, except you have to deal with all the noise of HF and none of the range.

    Either you build a radio, or you buy a radio. Buying is usually cheaper.


    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  34. Gregory A. Gabaldon April 17, 2012 at 3:59 pm · Reply

    No, sir. I just didn’t break it out. Lobbyists for different industries convince the FCC to put up blocks of spectrum up for bid. They try to convince the FCC that certain groups/entities aren’t using existing leases to full potential or that a better use is available when terms/conditions are up. U.S. Gov’t still gets it’s share of the lease, but the lease holders can charge their own price, subject to in-place rules. I never said there were no secondary assignments, but everyone (usually) operates within the rules set forth; some more creatively than others. Unless you’re LightSquared and have insider buddies…..


    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  35. William Easterday April 23, 2012 at 8:23 am · Reply

    “Strip mining” pretty much describes things. I can’t understand why people will waste spectrum by streaming video on a cell phone when they are sitting in front of a “real” computer that probably has a copper or fiber connection to the Internet.

    The real issue is money. The wireless providers gobble up and populate every bit of spectrum that they can charge for. More often than not they eat up bandwidth with stuff that cold be handled by wire or fiber with perhaps only the last little bit being low power, small footprint wireless. Congress sees this as a (one time) revenue source for the federal coffers and thinks that they can auction off spectum ad-infinitum.

    What nobody, including subscribers with $100+ cell phone bills, seems to understand is that spectrum is a finite resource.


    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  36. William Easterday April 23, 2012 at 8:23 am · Reply

    Guess I should have spell checked that. “Cold be handled” should be “Could be handled.”


    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  37. Mel Frerking June 22, 2012 at 10:12 am · Reply

    Exactly, and always keep at least one hardwired POTS phone around since the cordless phones will not work during the power failure.


    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  38. Michael Marcus June 22, 2012 at 10:12 am · Reply

    Spectrum is clearly not consumed and is a classic renewable resource.

    However, this requires either policies that give clear consistent incentives for intensive spectrum use by BOTH licensed and unlicensed users or regulators having enough fortitude to reallocate spectrum as society’s needs change and technology gives new options.


    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

Leave a Comment