Qualcomm Seeks Digital TV Delay Exception

While mobile and wireless companies AT&T and Verizon have said they can live with a temporary delay in the digital television transition, Qualcomm is anxious to roll out its MediaFLO service as soon as possible. If Congress does delay the transition from Feb. 17 to June 12, Qualcomm wants lawmakers to keep the Feb. 17 deadline on nine stations in four major markets to allow the company's cell phone television service to debut on time.

It should come as no surprise that Qualcomm opposes any delay in the digital television transition currently scheduled for Feb. 17. After all, the company has spent hundreds of millions to obtain a slice of the spectrum being vacated by television broadcasters. Qualcomm is anxious to expand its cell phone television service known as MediaFLO as soon as possible.
However, with lawmakers strongly signaling an intention to delay the transition until June 12, Qualcomm shifted gears Jan. 19, asking Congress to impose the Feb. 17 deadline on only nine TV stations in four major markets. By forcing the Feb. 17 deadline on the Boston, Houston, Miami and San Francisco markets, Qualcomm would still be able to roll out a substantial portion of its MediaFLO service.
In 2008, Qualcomm acquired eight licenses in the FCC's (Federal Communications Commission's) 700MHz spectrum auction at a total cost of $558.1 million. The licenses doubled Qualcomm's 700MHz spectrum holdings throughout a footprint of more than 68 million people in 28 individual markets.
"Any delay of the DTV transition ... will penalize Qualcomm for having acted as a responsible FCC licensee in following the law and making the investments necessary to turn on our transmitters as soon as the DTV transition ends on Feb. 17, 2009," Qualcomm CEO Paul E. Jacobs said in a Jan. 19 letter to lawmakers.
Qualcomm revealed the extent of its MediaFLO ambitions in a Jan. 12 filing with the FCC.
"Immediately upon the end of the DTV transition on February 17, 2009, Qualcomm will turn on transmitters to launch MediaFLO in many major markets around the country," Qualcomm Vice President of Government Affairs Dean Brenner wrote in the filing. "Within a few days of Feb. 17th, Qualcomm will have approximately 100 new transmitters on the air in Channel 55."
Brenner said the new transmitters will allow Qualcomm to launch MediaFLO in approximately 15 major markets across the country and to expand the existing MediaFLO coverage footprint in approximately 25 other markets.
Other wireless carriers that have a stake in the soon-to-be-available spectrum indicated to Congress that they were willing to live with a temporary delay in the digital TV transition after then-President-elect Barack Obama urged Congress to delay the transition. The NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration) announced Jan. 5 that funding for the $1.34 billion digital converter box coupon program has been exhausted, at least for now. The NTIA said consumers still seeking a coupon would be placed on a waiting list as expired, unredeemed coupons become available.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, responded to Obama's request Jan. 15, introducing legislation to extend the digital TV deadline to June 12.
"Because of these important developments, Verizon agrees that a onetime delay from Feb. 17 to June 12, as reflected in Senator Rockefeller's draft bill, is appropriate," Verizon Chairman and CEO Ivan Seidenberg said in a letter to lawmakers. "Any further delay would harm the nation's economy and broadband future, as I noted in my letter earlier this week."
AT&T also said it supports a delay.
The U.S. House cancelled a Jan. 21 hearing to mark up legislation similar to Rockefeller's.