Pai: Replacing Broadcasting with Broadband 'Counterproductive'

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FCC commissioner Ajit Pai planned to tell a broadcast assemblage in Dallas on Wednesday that it would be counterproductive to move all broadcast services to broadband.

According to a copy of his prepared text for a speech to the National Association of Broadcasters Radio Show, Pai believes that broadcasting "should and will continue to play an important role in America's media landscape," echoing his defense of the industry in an interview with B&C/Multichannel News earlier in September.

And while Pai was addressing a radio group, he spoke more broadly about the future of over-the-air.

"To be sure, the rise of broadband is having a revolutionary impact on the lives of Americans," he planned to tell the group. "And we at the Commission must aggressively pursue policies to remove regulatory barriers to wireline and wireless broadband deployment. But I don't view broadband as a substitute for broadcast. Instead, I see broadcast and broadband as complements.

"Moving forward, it will make sense for some services to be provided through broadcast and others via broadband," said Pai, but not all. "[I]f we were to shift all of the services provided by broadcasters to broadband, that would actually be counterproductive. It would make our spectrum problems worse, not better. So that's not what the market will demand. To give one obvious example, it is a much more efficient use of spectrum to deliver high-demand programming like the Super Bowl through a one-to-many broadcast than to provide it through millions of one-to-one wireless broadband connections."

He was clearly preaching to the choir on that score. NAB has been making that point for some time; FCC chairman Julius Genachowski is on the record as saying he saw a future for broadcasting, though his eyes are clearly on broadband as the go-to medium.

Pai was also likely to draw some applause for other suggestions in the speech, including ending the "de facto" ban on foreign investment in U.S. broadcast companies of more than 25%, instead reviewing each case individually, eliminating cross-ownership rules, clearing up the backlog of indecency complaints and the license renewals being held up by them. Pai said that not only should the FCC clear up the complaints, but be clear about how it was resolving them. "as we move forward, we must do so in a way that is clear and easy to understand," he said. "This is important for parents, and it's important for broadcasters. Vague standards aren't in anyone's interest."

Pai was full of praise for broadcasters as he ticked off their public-service credits. "To broadcasters, localism isn't just a slogan; it's your way of doing business," he said. "Broadcasters are there day in and day out. They report the local news. They deliver the farm report. They cover local college and high-school sports events. They create a forum for debate on local issues. And off the air, broadcasters are often pillars of the community. They help local charities raise money, sponsor Little League teams, and pitch in at schools."

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