Sometimes we get asked to perform tasks outside our job description – or outside our area of expertise. Most of us, smartly, investigate the job and, if we can do it, we just do. But what happens when you’re totally outside your area.
OK, friends…this one’s kinda political. Specifically about politicians and appointees who think that “just because it’s a good thought, it should be implemented.”
Now, I’m not against implementing good ideas. But when someone comes up with one of those “good ideas” which is outside their area of expertise, it spells danger. Case in point:
The FCC continues its push for reassignment of broadcast television spectrum to personal services like smart phones and PDA’s. “Everyone should have broadband,” is the thinking. And, yes, it’s admirable. And in support of it, Richard H. Thayer, professor at a major university, filed a story with the New York Times. Now, I do give him credit for his statement that it, “…sounds too good to be true…” because it is.
Professor Thayer makes the point that there are a lot of folks who aren’t on cable or satellite who could be converted – by forcing the systems to provide low cost service – thereby freeing the broadcast spectrum. He also tries to draw a picture of broadband being more efficient than broadcast.
This is a perfect example of someone working outside their area of expertise. And, yes, it’s dangerous.
First, think about the physics. It is evident that Professor Thayer doesn't understand the "economics" of spectrum allocation. (The Buried Treasure in Your TV Dial, New York Times, 2-27-10).
Do the math on the spectrum requirements for people in 1200 autos, 2 C&NW trains and two "El" trains on the Kennedy Expressway in his city and you will see that there isn't enough spectrum space available even including that currently allocated to broadcast TV.
Then do the math on efficiencies. In New York City, a program with a 5 rating is reaching about 550,000 households or (with an average VPVH of 1.5) 825,000 individuals. Divide that 6 megahertz TV channel by the 825,000 and you get a spectral "cost" of about 7.3 Hz*. Not kilohertz, just good old Hertz! Now stack that up against the multi-kilohertz to megahertz of bandwidth required PER PERSON under Professor Thayer's proposal and you'll quickly see his tremendous error.
*I’m being generous since the full six megahertz is only used in the 1080i HD mode.
Once again, good ideas need to be tempered with reality. Otherwise, you may be creating rules against the laws of physics. Hey, if that’s possible, let’s outlaw auto accidents and heart attacks, too.
We live through this regularly as legislators pass regulations without looking at the real world. Today, for example, automakers were informed that their new MPG target is 54. Think they’ll make it? It’s double what the rules are today. Might happen but the laws of physics say it has to be with small, light – and potentially unsafe – cars with fewer weight-adding amenities and no pickup. Or with electric cars, right? Infinite MPG – while they push the pollution caused by coal. Again, politicians think electricity is free…and they don’t realize that there’s actually a real live formula for converting horsepower to watts. That law against hurricanes must be just around the corner.
It’s a shame Professor Thayer didn’t run his idea past a truly distinguished professor from his same school, Prof. Steven Levitt, author of Freakonomics. I doubt he would have let Thayer’s work out of the building.