VIA FLICKR [JP] Corrêa Carvalho - يوحنا بولس - CC BY 2.0

Just Call FOX’s Bluff Already

Word is that FOX and possibly another broadcaster want to take their ball and go home. Thanks to a court ruling backing Barry Diller’s Aereo service, which takes over-the-air broadcasts and puts them online without permission, the networks are “considering” giving up their wildly valuable TV broadcast licenses — granted for free by the U.S. government — and heading exclusively to cable.

That’s how bad it is, damn it!

Go ahead. Worst case, this would deprive the 17 percent of Americans that get their TV solely over the air from watching The Simpsons. Best case, the U.S. would get all that spectrum back to build out far more useful services that until now have been blocked by the very TV broadcasters who would rather die than give up a bona fide government bonanza that earns them billions with almost no accountability to the taxpayers who made it all possible.

This smacks of the inane saber rattling that happens all the time in the broadcast business, but the shoe is usually on the other foot. Normally this story plays out with content companies threatening to boycott cable because of the allegedly insane demands of the monopolists who own the pipes.

These arguments never last. They are negotiating ploys as transparent as the red ink that would flow if executives were ever daft enough to follow through.

No one should be intimidated by this. In fact, these kinds of proclamations provide the perfect excuse for the Federal Communications Commission to take back the airwaves and put them to better use — say, by building next-generation wireless services that transport a lot more than plain vanilla video signals. You don’t want your spectrum? Fine. Hand it over.