National Association of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith says he has not foreclosed to talks about spectrum reclamation, but also called characterized the suggested reclamation of broadcast spectrum for wireless broadband as a "major policy piece hatched outside of political reality," saying the graveyard is full of such proposals.
Smith's remarks came during a speech to the Media Institute in Washington, his first as head of the broadcast lobby.
"When you start talking about 800 MHz [of spectrum] that is potentially worth billions of dollars and saying we're going to take that for other purposes, and those purposes will no longer be free over-the-air, but we'll take them for fee service, I think I know how that argument plays out politically."
But he said NAB is "open to ideas," except that whatever those ideas were they would still have to leave broadcasters with a workable business model, which includes spectrum for multicast channels and HD.
Asked whether one of those ideas could be some smaller broadcasters in markets giving up spectrum, he said he was not and is not "foreclosed to anything," but that he would need to see "the whole package" and formulate a response that allows venting in the association of all views, including opportunities.
He said the key was keeping a business model that allows stations large and small to be profitable. "In my lexicon, profitable is not bad, it's critical. It's essential."
Smith agreed with a reporter that he thought there had been a ratcheting-back of some of the spectrum reclamation rhetoric from the commission. "I think I have," he said, adding that he had a "very cordial" meeting with Blair Levin and all the commissioners. He said the FCC is charted with the inquiry, but called it something being constructed in a policy vacuum that is running into the political reality.
Asked directly whether broadcasters would be willing to give up some of their spectrum for wireless broadband, he said that he would have to see the proposal and "how they are going to stack things."
He said if the proposal is a single channel similar to the analog world. "That's a nonstarter. We'll fight that fiercely. We should have the right to broadcast in high definition. We have made that investment in detrimental reliance in government representation."
Smith said he could not outline an NAB position until it has seen a proposal, but that it must "continue to include free over-the-air broadcasting and all of its manifestations," including mobile TV and multicasting and HD.
He also said that millions of Americans, again in "detrimental reliance" on Congress, have dipped into savings to buy TVs. "Some of them get a subscription service, satellite or cable. "Fine, you still have to have a broadcaster in there, particularly for the disadvantaged."
Smith would certainly not count among that group, but he pointed out that he had three TVs, one hooked up to Comcast Cable, one to satellite (he did not say which service) and one over the air. When the weather is bad or the neighbor's tractor runs over the wire, he still has over-the-air service, he pointed out.
It is the value of that local, lifeline service broadcasters provide that Washington needs to get a refresher course on.