NAB President Gordon Smith says that reducing TV broadcasting to an SD-only service is a “non-starter” that he will “fiercely” oppose. Stations have a right to broadcast HD, he says. The SD-only idea is contained in the FCC’s cash-for-spectrum proposal, under which stations would give up most of their spectrum for a share of the proceeds from its sale. Smith says he is keeping an open mind about spectrum reallocation, even as he builds the case against it.
NAB President Gordon Smith said that the NAB will strongly oppose any spectrum take-back scheme from the FCC that would prevent TV stations from broadcasting HDTV and reduce them to SD-only service.
“That’s a non-starter,” Smith said at the Media Institute in Washington Tuesday. “We will fight that fiercely. We should have the right to broadcast in high definition.”
Smith was reacting to the so-called cash-for-spectrum proposal floated last month by FCC staffer Blair Levin, who is heading the FCC study into how to expand high-speed broadband access in the U.S.
Under the proposal, the broadcasters would give up most of their spectrum in exchange for a share of the proceeds from auctioning the spectrum to wireless operators.
Each station would retain a small slice of spectrum so they could broadcast only a single SD service for viewers who still rely on over-the-air reception.
Despite his strong language, Smith said that he is “open to ideas” on reallocating broadcast spectrum and that NAB would not adopt a formal position on it until it saw a definitive proposal from the FCC.
However, Smith also suggested that the FCC would have trouble winning the necessary congressional approval for a proposal that would shift spectrum from a free service like broadcasting to a pay service like wireless broadband.
“I think I know how that argument plays out politically,” he said. The graveyard is full of policies “hatched outside of a political reality.”
Smith made a case for leaving broadcasting spectrum left intact. Broadcasting is the option that provides the “disadvantaged” with a free service that connect thems to “local news, sports, entertainment, weather.”
And if its spectrum remains untouched, he said, stations will also soon offer a mobile DTV service that will allow consumers to take broadcasting along wherever they go.
“It’s not hard for me to predict to you that this Apple [iPhone] and this Blackberry will be FM radios and mobile TVs too.”
When broadcasters begin offering trial mobile DTV service in Washington in the coming months, he said, “you will see people start to appreciate again the role of free, over-the-air broadcasting.”
Smith also suggested that the government could best help traditional media and the journalism they support by relaxing media ownership restrictions.
“There are ways for government to get out of the way of the newspaper business and allow some economies of scale so that we don’t have to rely on the blogosphere for our news, which sometimes is not all that committed to the truth,” he said.
Both parties have problems with the news media, Smith noted. Republicans generally don’t like newspaper editorials and Democrats generally don’t like radio “because of Rush Limbaugh. The truth is we need them both.”
Smith, who served two terms in the U.S. Senate, urged broadcasters to take an active role in lobbying Congress.
“There is … a grassroots army that can be mobilized, must be mobilized, in a constant re-education effort about the value of free, local, over-the-air. Lawmakers need to be reminded of the value of it over and over again.
“Broadcasters need to do that, perhaps better than we have been.”