The Consumer Electronics Association, the lobby for the big phone companies and their suppliers, says the proportion of Americans who still get their TV signals free, from antennas, is less than 1 in 12, and falling.

But the National Association of Broadcasters, the TV lobby, citing independent data, says the proportion of rabbit-ears users is actually 1 in 7 - and rising, writes Peter Putnam, president of Last Mile Communications, Doylestown, in his blog,

Putnam says the broadcasters have it right: "Free, over-the-air TV is a key component of the cord-cutting experience. Why? Because it’s doggone difficult to watch sports and prime time TV shows in HDTV over a typical Internet connection..." That's why video-watchers are using free TV to supplement online service "as part of the kiss-off to Comcast or Time Warner" cable TV service.
Count these partial users, and the number of free-TV users is likely growing, now that digital service has multiplied the number of free channels, Putnam figures.

What's at stake? As Putnam notes, CEA is lobbying small businesses to demand Congress and the Federal Communications Commision "redeploy" free TV signals to wireless broadband so Verizon and AT&T can sell more phone service.

"The CEA’s bias is clear," Putnam concludes. Americans who want and rely on free TV ought to fight the phone companies' spectrum grab, he says.