National Association of Broadcasters president Gordon Smith took to the Hill Tuesday April 27 to defend broadcasters' spectrum and clear up at least one point at a Senate Small Business Committee broadband oversight hearing.
Smith said he wanted to put on the record how much he appreciated FCC chairman Julius Genachowski's speech to the NAB show where he stated that "this broadband plan would never devolve from voluntary to compulsory." But he also denied a report that he and the chairman reached "any deal" on the issue. The two met while Genachowski was in Las Vegas for the convention. "What he said is what he said, and we are prepared to work with him."
Genachowski was also a witness at the hearing, but on an earlier panel.
Smith said one piece of the spectrum plan that is "of great concern" is the spectrum fees that have been proposed in the national broadband plan. He said that a "punitive fee" could force some small broadcasters off the air.
Smith said that broadcasters were a highly efficient system, while wireless was a "spectrum hog." He said that the FCC "should encourage the deployment of fixed wireless broadband services in rural areas using empty broadcast channels. If done the right way, this service has the ability to greatly increase rural penetration for hard-to-reach constituencies without taking spectrum from broadcasting."
One problem is that where the FCC most needs the spectrum is in congested urban areas, rather than those rural areas with open channels.
Smith said that the congressionally mandated spectrum inventory should come before any spectrum reclamation initiative. "It's imperative that we get all the facts so that we do this right," he said. But he also argued that the wireless industry could solve most of the problem without more spectrum by investing more and increasing the number of towers.
CTIA president Steve Largent countered that spectrum should be brought to auction as fast as possible. "We can't afford to wait for spectrum to be auctioned in 10 or 15 years," he said.
The hearing was about broadband and small business, and Smith said broadcasters were small businesses themselves, who rely on other small businesses for their advertising. "We must not jeopardize this fragile communications ecosystem with policy solutions that jeopardize this," he said. He was co-opting the "ecosystem" term that has become the buzz-word for broadband proponents.
Smith made the case for broadcasters as just having finished a DTV transition, at the direction of Congress, in which they gave back more than a quarter of their spectrum already. He pointed to nearly $3 billion the government spent on the converter box program, the $15 billion broadcasters spent transitioning, and the untold" billions on new digital TV's." He also plugged HD, multicasting, mobile DTV and 3D TV.
He also talked about emergency communications, even evoking the terrorism threat. "In a day of terrorism," he said, "it is important to recognize that broadcasting is the one signal that literally could be the difference of life and death for people confronted with terrorist actions."
While he had the ear of his former colleagues (Smith was a Senator from Oregon), the NAB president cautioned Congress to "resist shifting the scales of the fair market-based system of retransmission consent."