NAB's Smith On Spectrum Reclamation: We Won't Be Rolled


National Association of Broadcasters president Gordon Smith says that broadcasters are willing to volunteer spectrum, but won't be "rolled" into a degraded position on the spectrum band.

That came in an interview for C-SPAN's Communicators series.

Smith reiterated his charge that Time Warner Cable and others were holding onto spectrum -- NAB has branded them 'hoarders' -- that has not been deployed. Asked whether broadcasters were hoarding spectrum, Smith said viewers needed to understand the difference between the way broadcasters use wireless use spectrum. He pointed out that broadcasting is a one-to-many service, rather than the one-to-one model of wireless video delivery. He said that video is what creates the congestion, and broadcasting is a more efficient way to deliver video. "There is probably not enough spectrum in the universe to manage one-to-one video on every mobile device in the wi-fi broadband world," he said.

He also pointed out broadcasters will do it for free, "and they will do it for a fee."

Broadcasters were in Washington this week to lobby on issues including spectrum. Asked what reaction Congress had to broadcaster concerns about the Federal Communications Commission "repacking" stations into less, and less attractive spectrum," Smith said that both Republicans and Democrats had indicated they were interested in "keeping voluntary voluntary." Smith said if broadcasters are repacked into "inferior channels" they will lose the ability to offer new services like mobile. Smith said broadcasters had "detrimentally relied on the word of Congress when they gave back a third of their spectrum" in the transition to digital.

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) has said he has some "dark suspicions" about how voluntary the FCC's proposal to reclaim 120 mHz of spectrum for wireless broadband really is. Smith said he agreed with Dingell. "We are very concerned about the details of repackaging, which he said would be a forced move, perhaps to a degraded band.

Smith said he did not know where the FCC came up with the figure of 120 mHz. "Somewhere between there and zero there will be some broadcasters who are underwater economically who will gladly agree to go out of business for a market fee." But that said, he also said there are others who are profitable and supplying important news and weather. He did not have a percentage of how many broadcasters he thought would take the buyout. He said what there was a regional broadband problem, primarily in New York, L.A. and Chicago.

But his point was about the stations left behind to be "repacked." "Why," he asked, "should people in Kentucky have to have their stations potentially degraded so that you can get a faster app download in New York city. I mean, come on, let's be fair." He said that as the FCC fixes that "urban problem," it should not damage rural areas.

Smith said that he was concerned about where broadcasters will fare when it comes to divvying up spectrum auctions. As a former Senator, he pointed out that such auctions were "every legislators pay-for for everything. when you put billions on the table, there are a lot of claimants."

He says he has also advised broadcasters who may want to participate: "Make sure the check clears before you participate."

Smith said broadcasters would volunteer to help if the FCC abided by certain principles, including keeping not taxing broadcasters (the Administration has proposed a spectrum fee), letting broadcasters innovate, and keeping mobile and multicasting. "We don't volunteer to be rolled."