New Effort to Exploit Digital Broadcast Spectrum

Last week, iBlast Networks, which comprises 12 major television broadcast groups, announced that it has formed a national network that it says will use a dedicated portion of the digital spectrum assigned to local television stations to deliver a "wide array of high-speed, over-the-air broadband digital content and services" direct to consumers. iBlast claims that this digital content will include music, video, games, software, and other applications.

According to iBlast, it has concluded exclusive agreements with 143 local television stations in 102 markets, covering more than 80% of the US, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, and Atlanta. At the time of its projected launch early in 2001, iBlast expects to have agreements with stations covering in excess of 95% of the country's homes.

iBlast says it will create a branded network that is the "farthest-reaching, fastest, and most cost-effective distribution system" for digital content, applications, and services. The company also claims that their service will "seamlessly" co-exist with the stations' traditional over-the-air and HDTV programming.

Using low-cost receiving antennas and Internet Protocol (IP) technologies along with the existing broadcast infrastructure, iBlast intends to bridge what it terms the "broadband divide" between content and service providers and their customers. A company statement claims that "the iBlast broadcast network is capable of delivering data at guaranteed speeds that are more than five times faster than DSL or cable-modem connections, and up to 200 times faster than upgraded 56k modems. By offering fundamentally improved economics, unsurpassed end-to-end quality of service, speed, and an IP-based, open standards approach, iBlast opens the floodgates for rich, broadband media and services to reach the consumer directly, through the installed base of personal computers and, in the future, a new world of emerging Internet appliances."

The company explains that its strategy is to deploy its network through multiple stations in each market, providing for maximum capacity and a common standard for the distribution of data over the air. Under terms of the agreements disclosed by iBlast, the station groups are contributing a portion of their allocated digital spectrum, a cash investment, and a guaranteed marketing commitment in exchange for equity ownership in the company, an ongoing revenue-sharing arrangement, and the ability to use iBlast's equipment to distribute local data content to consumers.

A company spokesperson states that "through the iBlast network, we have together created a free, wireless platform capable of distributing vast amounts of digital content, in varying forms, directly to consumers with incredible speed and efficiency. Because the value and the power of the network will increase with scale, we will continue to add new broadcast groups and stations that share our commitment to this form of digital delivery."

Tribune Broadcasting's Dennis FitzSimons says, "the formation of iBlast underscores broadcasters' commitment to use the digital spectrum to deliver both high-definition pictures and additional digital content to their communities of license." Cox Broadcasting's Andy Fisher adds that "while HDTV will remain one of the primary uses for our digital spectrum, the introduction of iBlast represents an entirely new and valuable use of this important asset: the transmission of the full range of digital content, applications, and services delivered free to consumers, in the convenience of their homes or offices."