Qualcomm CEO Jacobs Confident Broadcasters Will Give Up Spectrum


Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs says he has "high hopes" that the Federal Communications Commission will be able to get broadcasters to "move off" of their spectrum, that he still has hopes for mobile video despite not having found the right model with FLO TV, and that the agency should allow tiered pricing combined with transparency to give consumers an idea of what applications are sucking up a lot of bandwidth.

That came in a Thursday interview for C-SPAN's Communicators series.

Saying 500 Mhz is "a lot to go get" -- referring to the FCC's target of how much spectrum it wanted to free up for mobile broadband over the next 10 years -- Jacobs said he thought incentive auctions could free up "large chunks" of that spectrum, but that more would still be needed.

To back up that hopeful analysis, he pointed to Qualcomm's success in paying some broadcasters to clear off their channels in advance of the DTV transition (Qualcomm created its FLO TV video service with that spectrum). "We have some experience with that ourselves because we bought spectrum in one of the spectrum auctions," he said, "and we were able to incent some broadcasters to turn their systems off and let us start broadcasting."

Jacobs added that it would be more difficult to get spectrum away from government users, though he said spectrum sharing may help out in that scenario.

Asked by Telecommunications Reports senior editor Paul Kirby, guest interviewer for the program, whether 500 Mhz would be enough, Jacobs thought there would be demand for more: "I think there is going to be a continuing demand for spectrum."

The FCC is looking to broadcasters to provide up to 120 Mhz of that 500 through clearing off channels, sharing channels, and consuming less bandwidth, but to do that it must first get Congress's approval to compensate broadcasters through incentive auctions, the only way they will volunteer their spectrum.

Jacobs said that he thought Congress would be able to approve those auctions "in a reasonable time frame," pointing out that they would mean money for the treasury as well as broadcasters.

Asked how much spectrum could be reclaimed through those incentive auctions, Jacobs said he understood broadcasters occupied 300 Mhz and "that gets you a fairly long way there." When Kirby pointed out that would mean clearing broadcasters off entirely, Jacobs suggested it might wind up being more than the 120 Mhz once there was money on the table.

"The interesting thing will be the dynamic that is created once there is a market system, and then you see who really wants to participate. Do the broadcasters still want to be over the air, because, as we know, most people are getting their content through cable or satellite today. And so, we'll see how that goes," he said.

Jacobs pondered that if the stations can put their content on those other platforms, and they are "guaranteed" to get to do that (say, through some form of must-carry), "do they really want to waste the electricity to run the towers?"

He said that when Qualcomm was asking broadcasters to clear off to make way for their FLO system, "we found that people were really willing to make that trade-off."

Jacobs said that his advice to the FCC on net neutrality was to allow tiered pricing, let consumers know how much bandwidth they are using, and put some pressure on application providers to be more efficient in their bandwidth use.

He wants the FCC to make sure consumers know what applications are using up their bucket of minutes, so the consumer can see that as a cost to them.

Qualcomm has backed off its consumer targeted FLO TV service -- it has stopped its direct-to-consumer sales of a device for TV reception of the service -- and is looking at either selling it or becoming a pipe rather than a multichannel video content aggregator. The service is still being provided to cell phones, he said.

He said there are a number of parties interested in buying the service, but didn't identify them.. Among those raising their hands:  media companies, which he said were thinking about downloading magazines and newspapers, and device manufacturers or applications providers who could use that pipe to update software.

But if video was supposed to be the killer app for mobile, why did it not seem to work for FLO?

Jacobs said there were things that people wanted to watch on their phones, but other things they didn't. "Live sports was very good," he said, "Breaking news was very good, but episodic TV wasn't very good."

He suggested that there would still be mobile video, but through a combination of delivery mechanisms, some better for live, some better for caching content. "But I do believe very strongly that we will still have mobile TV, it just may be in a different form."