Thomas Lucente: Let PBS stations go dark

By Thomas Lucente - [email protected]

Some 90 years ago, in wholly un-American fashion, the U.S. government nationalized an important resource: The radio spectrum.

“If this resource had been oil, coal, lumber, or steel, the American people would have been outraged and would not have stood for it,” wrote Adam D. Thierer some 15 years ago. “Yet this resource — the electromagnetic wireless spectrum — was simply unknown to most Americans, so few knew or cared.”

As is common to regulated resources, the government has used its control over the spectrum to flex its muscles to silent unpopular opinions and to act as a barrier to entry, lowering competition, raising prices, and blocking innovations that might threaten industry leaders. The regulatory power has been used to suppress FM for decades. Cable TV was blocked for many years as was satellite TV, satellite radio and FM micro broadcasters.

Also, because of the oversight of the FCC, the largest censorship body in the world, free expression over the government-owned spectrum is illusory, a sham.

This nearly century old experiment in public ownership of a valuable resource has been an utter failure. Privatization of the spectrum is essential. Property rights, private contracts, and the common law, rather than government bureaucrats, should govern disputes over the electromagnetic spectrum.

Unfortunately, when government seizes a resource, it rarely gives it up.

Still, the FCC has spent the last three years moving toward an incentive auction, set for next year. It’s pretty hilarious because the FCC has cloaked this in some sort of “free market” solution to satisfy the growing spectrum needs of wireless providers. Of course, the market would never take four years to implement the sale of a valuable resource.

Television stations have four choices: relinquish all spectrum and stop broadcasting, channel-share with another station, switch from UHF to a lesser-quality VHF signal, or not participate. They have until the fall to decide.

The sale is a good first step. And it has the added benefit of attracting that other pocket of broadcast socialism, public television.

Public television, aka state-run media, is an anachronism in 21st century America and, essentially, a subsidy for the entertainment of the rich, which makes it odd that leftists are in such a tizzy to save Public Broadcasting Stations that are considering taking the big check and cutting their losses. For example, WBGU in Bowling Green could net as much as $40 million and WGTE is looking at a possible $55 million pay day.

Certainly public television programming has value. I would write a check for the programming today if the government would end its funding of public broadcasting and let these great shows compete for viewers in the marketplace.

There really is no need in today’s multimedia world for the government to subsidize broadcasting. If a broadcast program is good enough, it does not need government funding.

What I find ironic is that funding of public broadcasting is a cause carried mostly by leftists. Yet, those same leftists often complain loudly about tax cuts for the rich. What do they think government funding of public broadcasting is?

It is a tax cut for the rich.

PBS is largely the domain of affluent baby boomers. Similarly, National Public Radio told advertisers several years ago that its listeners were 66 percent wealthier than the average American and 150 percent more likely to be professionals or managers.

These people can afford to pay for such programming if they want it. Let’s face it, tax-funded broadcasting, as well as other tax-funded cultural activities such as art and music, is a transfer of wealth to the rich from the middle class, which is taxed to pay for the news and entertainment of the upper middle class.

Now we see why the wealthy are so opposed to public broadcasting stations going dark. They lose their free entertainment bought on the backs of the middle class.

Clearly, public broadcasting is anachronistic in today’s wired world where Americans suffer from media overload.

It would be in the best interest of the nation if public broadcasting stations would relinquish their spectrum to wireless providers who will provide the best and highest use of that valuable resource.

By Thomas Lucente

[email protected]

Thomas J. Lucente Jr. is an Ohio attorney and night editor of The Lima News. Reach him by telephone at 567-242-0398, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @ThomasLucente.

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