Delay you can’t believe in

Tim Carney reports in the Examiner that Barack Obama’s plan to delay the long-scheduled transition of television broadcasting from analog signals to digital signals will assist a company with whom one of Obama’s advisors on telecommunications policy is associated. That advisor is R. Gerard Salemme, an executive vice president at a company called Clearwire and a substantial contributor to the Obama campaign. Salemme advised Obama’s telecom transition team, which recommended the delay in the transition from analog to digital. The transition team did not disclose Salemme’s involvement, according to Carney.

Clearwire, Salemme’s company, provides infrastructure for Sprint’s wireless data network. As Carney puts it, “Sprint pays Clearwire to connect your Blackberry to the Internet.” Carney contends that delaying the transition from analog to digital will assist Sprint and Clearwire while injuring Verizon, one of Sprint’s major competitors.

How? As Carney explains it, the switch from analog to digital will free up a huge swath of frequencies, which the FCC has auctioned off to other telecommunications firms, including Verizon, who will use this spectrum for its wireless broadband networks, providing Internet for Blackberries and similar devices. But Sprint and Clearwire already own specturm which they have used to launch their their fourth-generation wireless broadband network, known as 4G network. Verizon cannot do so yet because it lacks the necessary spectrum. Thus, says Carney, “the longer broadcasters use analog signals, the longer Verizon has to wait to get the spectrum it needs for its 4G network–which gives Sprint a longer honeymoon as the only network offering 4G speeds.”

Carney acknowledges that there are legitimate arguments in favor of delaying the transition from analog to digital. But he finds “the appearance of impropriety” stemming from Salemme’s undisclosed involvement to be “glaring.”

UPDATE: Julian Sanchez, the Washington editor of Ars Technica on whose reporting Carney relied in part, informs me that Salemme also has ties to a company called ICO, which competes with two video-to-mobile companies (Qualcomm and Dish Networks) whose acquisition of spectrum gets delayed if the transition is postponed.

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