Microsoft’s misguided broadband plan endangers Americans
© Getty

When I started my career as an Emergency Medical Technician, one of the first lessons I learned about emergency response was “First, Do No Harm.”

That remains as true today as it was then.

So why is Microsoft trying to take valuable spectrum away from local broadcast TV stations, which could harm many Americans’ ability to prepare for emergencies in their community?

Microsoft has asked the Federal Communications Commission to leave vacant a nationwide channel of broadcast TV spectrum — also known as television “white space” airwaves — for use by unlicensed wireless devices. Microsoft is pushing this proposal in Washington by claiming the TV spectrum it would commandeer would help roll out wireless broadband in underserved areas of the country.

But at what cost?

ADVERTISEMENT

Microsoft’s proposal comes as the FCC begins the process of moving — or “repacking” — almost 1,000 local TV stations into a smaller allocation of the airwaves following its broadcast spectrum incentive auction.

 

The FCC must also find new channels for hundreds of low-power stations (LPTVs) and television translators, which tens of thousands of rural Americans rely on for access to local television service.

Broadcasters are legitimately concerned about Microsoft’s proposal because it would remove another channel that has been explicitly designed to deliver local television signals.

If Microsoft gets its way, a television station or translator will likely be left without a landing slot on the TV dial and forced off the air forever in many markets throughout the country.

As someone who has devoted his career to emergency management, I am concerned about any proposal that forces Americans to lose access to local television stations.

Local TV is one of the most reliable and trusted ways for the public to get updates during life threatening emergencies.

During my eight years as head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, I witnessed first-hand the value of broadcast messages during fast-moving weather patterns and natural disasters.

There is no doubt in my mind that thousands of lives are saved every year with up-to-the-minute, live and local warnings from broadcasters about the path of hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires.

In rural areas of the country, where the weather changes rapidly and with little warning, local broadcast television plays a particularly important role in disaster coverage, as many residents do not have access to cable or satellite television, and where cell service is spotty at best.

TV broadcasters are also getting ready to roll out a new transmission standard with features that will help viewers stay connected during times of emergencies.

For example, Next Gen TV would allow broadcasters to send viewers multimedia content, such as interactive evacuation maps. It would also have the capability to “wake up” televisions and other devices in an area, which could be used to alert Americans when a tornado touches down in the middle of the night.

Microsoft’s proposal could make it harder for Americans to enjoy the benefits of this new standard.

While the goal of bringing broadband internet to rural areas is one we all share, there are other options that Microsoft should consider before doing damage to local TV stations and viewers.

However well-meaning the Microsoft proposal may seem, there’s more to this story than meets the eye. The FCC should remember, “First, Do No Harm”.

Craig Fugate served as President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaDemocrats have major policy dilemma with new Congress Booker's potential 2020 bid is generating buzz among Democratic activists, says political reporter Obama: 'No ferns. No memes' in final plea urging people to sign up for ObamaCare MORE’s FEMA Administrator from May 2009 to January 2017. Previously, he served as Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s Emergency Management Director from 2001 to 2009.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.