If I told you that federal lawmakers are about to forward a bill to the floor of Congress that would empower a government agency to go into towns all over the country and say to small businesses, “We are taking the land you are on and selling it to a large corporation, which spent millions of dollars lobbying to get this land, so that they can build a business that is needed more than yours,” would you be angry?
Wait . . . Don’t answer . . . There is more. “This agency won’t pay a dime to those small businesses, even if that business spent millions.” Angry yet? Wait . . . Don’t answer . . . There is more.
The large corporations are going to use money they got from special tax breaks and loopholes to buy that land. In fact, one of those corporations paid $0 tax last year. That’s right, every one of those small businesses that are about to be confiscated, paid more taxes than the multi-billion dollar corporation that is getting their land. Are you angry yet? Wait . . . Don’t answer . . . There is more.
The corporations that are demanding the land to be taken away from these small businesses have plenty of land that they don’t use, but they keep complaining they don’t have enough. .
The small business owners have a solution of their own. They reply to Congress saying, “If you really need this business in our community, we will pay to build it ourselves and we will build it faster than the big corporations. We can be part of the solution.”
Then comes the answer from many lawmakers, “Sorry, our plan is set in stone and you are not part of the solution.”
Are you angry yet? Well you should be. This is not a hypothetical situation. It is happening right now in the House Subcommittee for Communications and Technology. The “land” are the broadcast airwaves which are about to be decimated through a spectrum auction—all under the false pretense of needed revenue.
The big wireless companies have spent millions of dollars lobbying Congress for billions in tax breaks. The monopolistic companies now want the federal government to take away one-third of the free television spectrum and let them use these billions to buy it. Effectively, they would be using taxpayer money to buy the public airwaves.
This action will lead to up to 2,000 television stations going off the air. What is being lost is that many of these stations are low power (LPTV) and translator stations. A large portion of these stations are owned by small businesses, churches, minorities and local governments. They provide thousands of hours of free local, religious, minority, niche and educational programming.
The wireless companies and their allies in Congress and the FCC say that these stations are obsolete and “secondary” and therefore don’t deserve any protection. Several years ago, the government asked people to start these stations and gave them 60-plus channels to choose from. Their only stipulation is that they would be secondary to full power stations, meaning they couldn’t interfere with a full power station. They accepted the stipulation and many poured their life savings into building these stations. Now the wireless companies want to take a third of the space on top of all the spectrum they took away a few years ago.
When the stations cry that, “there is no space left for us,” the wireless companies simply say, “Too bad, you are secondary.” The problem is, these stations were never meant to be “secondary” to the wireless companies and by this action, the government, which asked them to start their stations, is making them secondary to another group. In the real world, we call this, “Bait and Switch”
If there is a “spectrum crunch,” why aren’t the wireless companies using the all the spectrum they have now? In a recent report, CitiGroup specifically outlined how the wireless companies already have plenty of spectrum. The wireless companies will deny this, of course, but if you need more proof, why are some of them publicly announcing they are willing to sell some of their spectrum? How can you claim you don’t have enough of something one day and offer to sell some of it the next day?
In response to this hostile takeover, broadcasters are saying that they could be part of the broadband solution. These stations could partner with small and big wireless companies to offer more broadband to the country, including helping to roll out broadband to under-served rural areas. Allowing broadcasters, especially these small stations, this opportunity will produce jobs in the near term and more money for the economy and federal government than the spectrum auction.
There is a real choice here. One plan will destroy hundreds of small businesses, cost thousands of jobs, lead to a hidden tax on the American people, rob the public of free airwaves, squash competition and allow wireless companies to sit on more spectrum while paying for all it through special tax breaks and loopholes.
The other plan, would maintain and create new jobs, bring in more revenue to the federal government than will any auction, create competition, solve the “spectrum crunch” quickly, and do it all without having to confiscate small businesses.
To any reasonable person once the truth is shown, the choice would seem clear.
Talking about choices, I watched in amazement a few weeks back as one of the authors of the FCC broadband plan asserted that having more spectrum so people can stream live video to their iPad was more important to our society than the existence of these small stations.
In fact, he was giving a false choice since these stations could deliver that video to the iPad and do it cheaper than the wireless companies. Even if it weren’t a false choice, it is un-American for the government to crush the little guy in the name of the big guy. It is un-American for the government to squash competition and pick the winners. It is un-American to take everything away from someone when they have done nothing wrong other than to be in your way.
Are you angry yet?
Irwin Podhajser is the chairman of the Coalition For Free TV and Broadband.