Rise of Multi-Purpose Networks Raises Questions Regulators Have No Intention of Addressing

Among the “hard to finesse” issues raised when single-purpose networks become multi-purpose networks is the matter of the bundling of content and distribution. Historically, “radio” content has been bundled with dedicated spectrum, as has “TV broadcasting.”

With the transition to “digital broadcast TV (high definition TV),” former analog broadcast TV has, in principle, been freed up for other purposes, including Internet access and mobile services. As one broadcast TV consultant and former regulator has quipped, “mobile companies would take all the spectrum if they could.”

Beyond the humor, there are broader issues raised by the creation of multi-purpose Internet Protocol networks of all types, especially the ability to deliver any content or communications.

At the same time, in many countries or markets, “most” television and video content already is consumed over a fixed broadband network or a mobile network.

Under such conditions, questions naturally are raised by the practice of using dedicated networks to deliver content, when most people already consume content using multi-purpose networks.

For other reasons, such as the need to remain relevant as content consumption moves away from linear delivery (“broadcasting”), broadcasters are looking at ways to distribute increasingly over the multi-purpose networks.

To matters as pointedly as possible, does it make sense to use communications spectrum to support unicast TV when all forms of TV and video increasingly are consumed using the multi-purpose IP networks?

Programming networks are just that. Their unique function is creation of compelling content. Whether they should also distribute that content over single-purpose, dedicated networks is the growing issue.

That is not to say there is any serious possibility that use of dedicated spectrum to support TV or radio broadcasting is in danger. No regulator anywhere has argued TV broadcasting should be suspended and TV content distributed only using the IP networks. Nor will any do so in the foreseeable future, and possibly ever.

Such a move would not be politically rational, even if some might argue, based on technology efficiency grounds, that is what makes more sense.

Political rationality will win, no matter what the business or technology logic might be.
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