Who Owns the Radio Spectrum?

Who Owns the Computers and TV Sets that I Buy?

The electromagnetic spectrum at frequencies lower than what we call infrared is a valuable public resource. In common parlance, we call it the public airways, or radio waves. In order to avoid radio cacophony, the FCC regulates the use of it in the USA.

The most powerful source of adult education could have been the broadcast media. The actual cost of sending vast amounts of information is trifling. Instead, they have fostered continuing ignorance, and messages intende to persuade regardless of the truth. I refer of course to "commercials".

Much of the material sent out in radio waves is under copyright of one sort or another. Copyright is supposed to protect the rights of the author or artist, but most copyrights are now chiefly the possession of non-human, non-intelligent entities called corporations.

I do not want the MPAA controlling my computer or my TV set

In order to "protect" such material, allegedly from the urge to copy and sell for profit without paying license fees, the Motion Picture Association of America, MPAA, which isn't even as creative as a corporation, lobbied the FCC and persuaded them to pass a regulation that in effect gives them the right to control how I watch broadcasts in HDTV.

It was called the 'broadcast flag'. It was thrown out by the DC Circuit Court. They ruled that it was not within the FCC's jurisdiction.

Owning a TV broadcast station funded by commercial advertisements, in the words of Rupert Murdoch, is like a license to print money. Commercial TV is not "free TV", it is wasteful and very expensive, because the advertisers reckon that they get their money's worth, and even if you reckon up only the value of your time that is wasted watching or waiting for the end of this unsolicited material, it costs you far more than the "TV licence" that funds the BBC. You can of course avoid paying your share of the advertising fees, by never buying a new car, cosmetics, or erectile enhancement medicines, and by not bothering your doctor with prescription recommendations that she or he should already know about.

Nevertheless, it is how most television is funded in this country. There are ways to fight it. One is to own a video recorder, and never to watch programs while they are being broadcast, but afterwards, skipping the commercials. Modern computers are fast enough to capture and save the signal (even the analogue variety that Digital TV will supersede) on hard disk, which lets you skip the commercials more quickly.

If the FCC had the interests of the public at heart, they could require the broadcasters to include a 'commercial flag' so that simple signal-capture equipment could be programmed not to waste space recording the commercials at all. It would go in the end-of-frame gap that gives the TV set time to flip its electron beam back to the top left of the screen. Those of the Congress, and even of local governments, who are not in thrall to the commercial interests could require the same of cable companies, so that their subscribers, who are already paying for the service, can receive commercial-free broadcasts for their money.

No doubt you will be told that this would be the ruination of free TV. I have asserted that commercials give you very expensive TV. Then again, a case can be made that in many different ways the funding by advertising has debauched the broadcast industry. If you were convinced by such a case, your response to the threat of the death of commercial-funded TV should be "Good riddance".

I doubt very much that if NBC, CBC, FOX, CBS and so on quit the business, then nobody could be found to broadcast on the vacated frequencies.

But that is only by the way.

The 'broadcast flag' ruling by the FCC forbade the selling, after July 1 of 2008, of any HDTV equipment that did not recognise and obey a signal, called the broadcast flag, sent out by the broadcaster. It prescribed both hardware and software, and was an unconscionable invasion of the liberties of the technologically-oriented citizen. Fortunately, it was stricken down.

I have already expunged Microsoft from all of my computers. I do not want my computer obeying any instructions that are not in principle accessible to my own scrutiny.

The US Government should not, under any pretext, allow the USA's copyright holders, or the MPAA representing them, to prescribe what hardware and software shall be in my computer.