It’s time to kill off broadcast TV

“t’s time to take over-the-air television out and shoot it,” Steve Wildstrom writes for TechPinions. “You may have noticed that there’s a war over wireless airwaves. Electromagnetic spectrum is a finite resource and those that have want to keep, but many who have also want more. The pressure is particularly intense to expand the spectrum available for mobile data.”

“All the usable spectrum that exists is assigned to someone and all of it is jealously guarded. A great deal of it is controlled by government and we don’t know how, or even if, some of it is used. But prying it loose will be very, very difficult,” Wildstrom writes. “The richest block of spectrum available is being used for over-the-air television broadcasts. The more than 200 MHz of prime bandwidth assigned to broadcast TV should and be put to a better use.”

Wildstrom writes, “Why we are dedicating any spectrum to over-the-air TV[?] The fact is that relatively few people watch it. While there is some dispute over the numbers, it appears that about three-quarters of Americans get their television primarily or exclusively by cable or satellite, whether as traditional scheduled programming or content delivered over-the-top on the internet. Cable or satellite service is available to virtually all of U.S. households, and the relatively few exceptions are most likely out of broadcast range as well. Dedicating so much bandwidth to serve and ever-shrinking audience seems foolish… You need not be a very astute observer of th Washington scene to know that the fact that something should happen is no reason whatever to believe that it will. Still reusing all that underused TV spectrum is something worth dreaming about.”

Read more in the full article – recommended – here.


  1. Except that not everyone can afford cable or satellite subscription rates. I suspect free over the air access to TV is a primary source of entertainment to very low end customers.

    1. Apple can cut that bill in half or a third. Drop the phone and the bundled show cost from the bill every month. Put FaceTime on the AppleTV and let Siri find the online media file for you from the source. CUT OUT THE MIDDLE GUY! Fewer commercials on the online copies and you didn’t need to record it on your DVR. Can watch it anywhere you have high speed connection.

      I watch many shows that way already using my Mac mini connected to my HDTV or my iPad which can also AirPlay it to my AppleTV connected to my HDTV.

      Monday is going to be a great developer conference for Apple and us!

  2. Broadcast TV is free. Free is good. What is not good is paying $80 month to cable and satellite services to watch 6 of 100 bundled programs. Currently providers offer no value to the consumer. I’d rather pay $40 per month for the 6 programs I do watch and spend the $40 on something else.

    1. Watching television will become even more expensive without broadcast TV. Those who say they want the broadcast airwaves to used for mobile cellular are really saying they want consumers to pay higher monthly bills.

      1. Absolutely.

        Cable is not an option in the not-quite rural area where I live… doesn’t exist and won’t for the foreseeable future as it’s not economically feasible for any company to build out.

        We got rid of DirecTV (as did four of our immediate neighbors) because of the expense…. and we’re not going to Dish, ever. We get more of our local stations now than did with DirecTV, anyway.

        And the image quality is better now, also.

        1. Agreed. Seems to me and the majority of viewers that only watch a handful of channels, WHY the additional expense? Apple nuked the recording industry album methods and had influence in other bloated markets, as well. I can only imagine Apple would provide choice at an affordable and sensible price point that would nuke the historic bundeled players.

    2. Not only is broadcast TV good, it’s also almost always HD, and in most markets that have decent OTA channels, you’ll get _more_ (and more useful) channels via antenna then via cable. For instance, here in the Boston market, the cable does not carry at least six of the digital channels I can get from a very simple and cheap indoor antenna. So I say, let’s explore OTA more fervently.

  3. This is so idiotic. The point of OTA free TV is for the people who can’t afford or don’t want Cable or Satellite. It’s of national security interest that this system exist and works. On so many levels, Wildstrom is wrong. Sure keep dreaming, but there is a bigger picture here than wireless data networks or trying to get more pennies out of the hapless consumer.

  4. I am an over-the-air consumer. I am just about centered between Tulsa and OKC. I only miss some cable news networks and channels like Discovery, History, syfy, etc. but I get am enormous amount of content: ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, My, ion, PBS (probably), This, Univision, and some less recognizable ones. Add Netflix (streaming and DVD) to that and I get a tremendous amount for only $16/mo. It’s all HD digital too! Several of my friends have since dropped cable and dish just after seeing how much I get for free! ¡Viva la revolución!

    1. And if Apple products are only for high-end users, it creates a conundrum for the “it’s for poor people” paradigm, since I am a iMac/MBP/iPad (3rd Gen)/iPhone 4S/apple TV Owner. Not giving some provider $$$$ is a choice. One that makes me very happy.

    2. Drop OTA TV which is supposedly a waste of bandwidth so that my teenagers can watch more YouTube and text each other across the living room? Yeah, right!

      Since the advent of digital OTA TV the pay TV subscriber base has been steadily eroding as more and more people find out they can get 30 or so channels of HDTV for free and pay $8 per month for their premium content from Netflix. That’s the reason for all the whining from pay TV providers about “wasted” bandwidth assigned to OTA TV. They see their golden goose being cooked.

      Poor people? I have a 6 figure income, but I’m not paying $80 per month for the same 3 box office failure movies run in a loop all month long, 300 channels of HSN, infommercials, and religion, and Extenz male enhancement commercials for my kids to see.

      The pay providers bought up all the DVR makers and now nobody makes a DVR that’s compatible with OTA TV. But my El Gato EyeTV records off the antenna on my old G5 tower and it then streams the recordings to all my wireless devices. All for $8 per month.

      Comcast and Zerizon, kindly pack your bundles of crap in your ear.

      1. Well said.

        The fallacy of CATV is that the bandwidth technology has improved a hundred-fold, yet the retail price of the ‘service’ keeps on going up.

        Add to that manipulative markets and forced ‘bundling’ to deny the consumer the opportunity to buy just what he wants and it is hardly any surprise that alternative to CATV is being criticized for being a bandwidth hog.

        Hate to tell this guy, but one project I’m working on has 2GHZ of bandwidth … yes, that’s 10x the grand sum total bandwith of all of OTA TV’s channels combined.

        There are spectrum issues, sure, but the real issue is that the desirable and CHEAP part of the spectrum is where the crowd (& competition) is. As silicon technologies continue to improve, the price of higher spectrum bands will come down because one won’t have to fork over the bucks for GaAs or GaN wafers to build your circuits on….


  5. What this “anal lyst” doesn’t realize is that there is still a lot of unused cellular bandwidth.

    OTA TV is digital and can grow. You can buy an HD antenna, prop it on your roof and receive free HD digital tv (where available).

    So, like DMac has explained above, you can get regular broadcast tv plus Netflix for $16.00. It isn’t matter of wealth, it is a matter of common sense.

    If HD broadcasts grow, cable and satellite providers will stop raping the consumer.

  6. This is such BS.

    I am definitely not “poor” but I refuse to pay for cable / satellite. It’s a freaking ripoff. Who watches that much TV anyways that they need 200 channels?

    No, I’m fine with my free, over-the-air, HDTV, free Hulu running via a Mac mini set top, and $8/ month Netflix on Apple TV. It’s waaaay more than I can possibly watch… cause I work… and have a real life…

    1. And BTW, the poor people in our country are poor because they unneccesarily waste money of frivolous things like cable & satellite tv. They might be on food stamps, but they still manage to scrape together enough cash for HBO.

  7. I don’t have cable or satellite TV. All my TV is terrestrial from BBC and various ITV networks. I am minded to get a HD box for £99 but I will never subscribe to cable or satellite. It’s a totally unnecessary expense for me. I would be very annoyed if the mobile lobby killed of traditional broadcasting and I can’t see any likelihood of a UK Govmt going that route.

  8. I use both OTA (Over the air) as well as cable tv that is provided by our apartment complex in Houston. Most of the OTA stuff is high definition, and whats provided to the tents is not high definition, and it is not upgradable. We are not allowed to have satellite dishes on the property, even though its probably illegal to do so. So there is no choice here. I know alot of people who are using a tv antenna to watch tv in Houston, for many reasons.

  9. I’d be all for this if Cable companies were required by law to provide, free of charge (or a low one time fee, $20, at most $40) all the local channels that used to be broadcast over the air.

  10. I just dropped cable TV for over-the-air TV complemented by online content. I’m saving $100 per month.
    I agree with danilko1 that OTA TV and radio are in the interest of national security. Keep the airwaves open and working.

  11. I guess this fits the selfish age we live in. Cut off one-forth (or more) of the population from access to OTA TV so the privileged can have more spectrum for themselves. Forget those who can’t afford flashy new toys, much less pay exhorbedent monthly fees to support them. What do they matter?

  12. Over the air is free in the sense that once you pay for a TV you can watch lots of stuff… For Free. Without OTA, you have to PAY for either cable or Dish, or Internet to see anything. And, I might add, that even when you pay for those other services, you still have to watch the same ads…. whats up with that ?

    If you want to git rid of Free OTA broadcasts, I’m expecting Free Cable or Free Dish for the same services… not cheap, but FREE.

    And if you want to go all the way down this road, let’s get rid of AM and FM as well.. Who listens to radio any more? ?

    1. Who listens to radio? Nine and a half million people listen to the BBC Radio 2 breakfast show alone, another eight million or so listen to the Radio 1 breakfast show. BBC 6Music, a digital-only station, recently voted UK top station in the Sony Radio Awards, and possibly the best station for breaking new music, gets around a million and a half listeners, many globally, in fact today someone from Mexico City wrote in to say thanks for such a great show.
      You are so typical of many on here who dismiss things just because YOU can’t be bothered to check out what’s out there.
      Try taking your head out of your ass, it’s making it difficult for you to hear what’s really going on out there.

  13. Cable and satellite services are in decline, even if data isn’t showing the trend yet. The new generation knows about many options for getting entertainment – what they understand is why suckers are still paying money to watch TV filled with commercial breaks.

    Over-the-air broadcast + Netflix + the rest of video on the Web for the win.

  14. Wildstrom’s only valid point is that terrestrial TV broadcasts do take a wide part of the spectrum. But as long as bench quarterbacks like he are going to stick their nose into a very effective and democratic process — FCC auctioning airwaves actually forces users to put their money where their mouths are — why doesn’t Wildstrom continue picking other winners and losers?

    First, all amateur frequencies should be confiscated and given to professionals who can make money from them. Ham radio operators, they can be sacrificed. What have they ever done for this quarter’s profitabilty?

    National agencies of the government should just give up their frequencies in support of the extreme right-wing goal to starve the federal government into an under-funded and hence under-performing entity. Why would we need radio spectrum to communicate to satellites and space vehicles anyway? Who needs radiolocation or astronomical studies? There is money to be made on mobile ads and consumer mind-numbing distraction!!!

    The Marine industry could probably use lanterns instead of the maritime mobile spectrum, the bums.

    The global Aeronautical industry doesn’t need to communicate with each other, since modern avionics fly the planes just fine. Huge chunk of spectrum wasted on private pilots especially, what good are those people? The occasional collision is a small price to pay for hours of invigorating consumer wireless services.

    Oh, and let’s not forget the many time signals that are issued to each different spectrum. Let’s just force each industry to buy new radios to tune into a singe master time signal at a frequency that no current radio can receive. That will spur the economy, right?

    Clearly those people advocating yet more corporate socialism are the same people who think that nothing can or should be publicly shared. To those people: please stop breathing my air and drinking my water.

      1. The same thing can be said for any organization on the planet. What’s your point?

        It seems that the people who complain most loudly about government inefficiency are willfully ignorant about the horrid bureaucracy and unaccountability of the mega-corporations in which they invest (usually with little or no investor discretion). Pot, meet kettle.

        Though seldom revealed to the media, the corporate decision-makers with their pet project disasters, or the incompetent management fuck-ups that obscenely waste resources, or the arrogant profit-meisters who gladly skirt responsible practices as they screw over customers & community with impunity to “economize”, or the executives who feel their role is to live like rock stars — they have all taken the entity of the corporation from an efficient structure for economic development into a politically-driven beast designed solely to reward the already-rich by using feudalistic mechanisms to screw the worker and customer whenever possible. By wielding dominant political power in the nation, these companies have consolidated entire industries into their back pocket — utilites have no competition, they are under-regulated regional monopolies. Consumers in many markets have to deal with the duopoly which shows no indication of true competition: two corporations offer product choices that are practically identical in price and features. Is more of this corporate dominance of industrialized nations the “freedom” that people want? You’ll get more of it if the federal government — elected by and responsible to YOU — doesn’t do its job. Today in the USA, Congress doesn’t give a damn about the people because of “Citizens United” and the corruption it represents.

        So if the federal government requires resources to regulate these out-of-control entities, so much the better. If citizens were represented INSTEAD OF corporate interests, your government would be more efficient — it wouldn’t buy crap that it doesn’t need, from $100 hammers to totally unnecessary and unwanted $ multi-hundred-million weapons programs by the score.

    1. It may come as a surprise to you, Mike, that many chunks of amateur spectrum have ALREADY been confiscated for industry use, most recently 220-222MHz (a band that was used primarily for urban and suburban disaster preparedness coordination) courtesy of UPS (yes, United Parcel Service) for a practically untested, demonstrably unreliable narrowband voice system which UPS abandoned even before the frequency grab became final – but of course the FCC went ahead with it. I guess they stay bought once they’re bought.

      If you’re in an area that is ever subject to any kind of disaster (which pretty much includes the whole planet), LEAVE THE AMATEUR SPECTRUM ALONE! Amateur radio is the communications that works when nothing else does, because that’s what we’re here for.

      de AA6MH

  15. Absolute Bullshit. Over the Air tv is here to stay. It gets better all the time since digital arrived. Cable, satellite don’t offer a sup[erior experience. HDTV is much better over-the-air. This guy is an opinionated gasbag

  16. Regulate the Cable Companies and Satellite Services and kill off broadcast TV- fine.

    Give the cable and satellite companies a choice:
    1- Sell a la carte and be unregulated
    2- Keep bundling and go regulated

  17. Who’s paying this guy off? NO way! OTA is free, and has a superior picture. And not all of us have access to cable or broadband. A lot of us. I have Directv. If not for Sports programming, I’d ditch it…

  18. This man is an idiot. Following in the footsteps of 4 (not poor) friends, I just cut the cable for OTA and added a Roku with an $8.00 per month Hulu account to watch the Daily Show and Stephen Colbert. I was paying $89.00 per month for 80 channels I NEVER watched. The U-Verse DVR added $12.00 per month. To get HD channels, I would have to pay even more. My U-Verse bill went up $30.00 dollars in 3 years and they added exactly ZERO benefit to me for this price increase. When I canceled, U-Verse offered me a $19.00 per month standard definition local channel package with a grand 12 channels (no sub channels). With my Leaf antenna I get 31 HD channels. It’s mostly crap, but so is what is on MOST of cable.

  19. In terms of consumer technology services, the US is unbelievably behind the rest of the planet, especially Europe.

    In the US, with no regional competition, there is NO cable or high speed internet in rural areas. Just ask Woz – seriously – he has none – he’s 1 (ONE) mile away from their limit. Horizon (I think) will not run the cable to his home.

    Over 60% of the US land is NOT covered. All of my friends use a OTA (what few channels they can receive) and no high-speed, satellite is a joke. If the US were to follow the rest of the world, there would be competition (true capitalism), this drives the price way down, increases services and speeds, and offers numerous service options.

    In the US, the major companies decided that only ONE cable company and ONE telephone company will be in a given area. This high pricing and terrible service was predicted decades ago. Cable companies, also, promised no commercials because unlike OTA you were paying for it, but that didn’t last very long.

    One day, Americans will wake up and realize that large companies own Congress. All political parties are the same, but the Republicans seem to base their morality, too, on big business. And, when you realize that organized religion is big business, it makes more sense. Nothing happens unless the biggest companies allow it and they can profit from it.

    I’d love someone to prove me wrong.

    This is NOT the America we celebrate on the 4th of July. We can all start by halting all campaign financing, thus giving the power back to the people, not just the wealthy 1%. Until then, we’re all bought and sold; merely pawns in a game played by millionaires and billionaires.

  20. One reason that nobody is mentioning that I and others would hate to see broadcast TV go away for is the smut factor. Even though dubious at times, there are smut/violence standards for broadcast TV. Those standards are not in place for pay TV. It is one reason that I still listen to broadcast radio. I like the radio edits of songs. I don’t need to hear all of that foul language.

  21. so how big a payoff is this guy getting fromt the cablecos and other “monetized” services to hype destroying the most affordable source of content for Americans? what a pig.

    of course, government could provide universal free wifi as a modern alternative, yes, and then this would start to make sense. but that would be socialism!

  22. Broadcast TV can not be killed off until either Internet or cable is free; I know I’m just a commy, socialist, nazi, fascist, hippy, but I think Broadcast TV should be replaced by a public (and open) broadband Internet. The Internet is more important to people and industries than broadcast TV is or will be.

  23. Good idea, Mr Wildstrom–let’s make everyone pay one of the gatekeepers. And let’s decrease national security by funnelling all communications for a critical medium through single, vulnerable, access points.

    Good thinking there, buddy…

  24. I am delighted, and reassured, to read so many comments in favour of retaining broadcast TV. Of course this is relevant mainly to the US – in Europe, Australia and elsewhere, broadcast TV is watched by the majority of households. As the US middle class continues to be hammered by the economy I expect more and more subscribers will drop their cable subscriptions and install aerials to receive free TV. Some will use the internet to download specific movies or shows where fast broadband makes this possible. In Australia the (socialist) government is rolling out fibre to every household and the connections are both affordable and blazingly fast. Perhaps, once the rollout is complete, Australia will be able to free up the broadcast spectrum, though I suspect that it is unlikely. In the US I would hope that, at some point, Americans decide they have had enough of being manipulated and ripped off by corporations and begin cancelling their overpriced cable subscriptions in large numbers.

  25. I gave up cable 2 months ago. Watch everything from OTA or Netflix. Went from $50/month to $8. Tried satellite few years ago, but trees on neighbors and city’s property obstruct the dish’s view to satellite.
    Do miss some of the live sports, but it’s a trade off I can live with for now. If someone can provide true low coast a la carte programming INCLUDING live sports, they will be rich beyond their wildest dreams.
    Cable will go down kicking/screaming so they can avoid providing true choices to consumers.

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