The NAB president says that an FCC spectrum auction must be totally voluntary, and even at that there need to be assurances that it “doesn't harm another station that wants to stay in business and is excited about the future.”
NAB’s Smith Draws The Line On Auctions
In his keynote address Tuesday morning at the NAB Convention in Las Vegas, NAB President Gordon Smith hammered away at the notion broadcasters should give up spectrum to the wireless industry but said if the FCC pushes a truly voluntary system for stations to relinquish space, the NAB would support it.
And he tweaked the president, by noting that by not supporting free over-the-air television’s attempts to avoid intrusion by the wireless industry, the Obama administration is forgetting the digital “have-nots” the administration pledged to help, including the one-in-three Hispanic households the NAB says relies exclusively on over-the-air TV.
“Isn’t it ironic a former Republican Senator is urging the Obama administration not to lose sight of an important segment of its political base? They shouldn’t be forgotten so that urbanites can have faster downloads of the latest game or gimmick.”
He made clear, any spectrum giveback would have to be really voluntary, and “as long it doesn’t harm another station that wants to stay in business and is excited about the future. It concerns us that the FCC could forcible relocate a broadcaster, crowd channels closer together, reduce their coverage, destroy innovation for viewers, increase interference or otherwise degrade their signal.”
Smith said broadcasters already gave up “more than 25 percent of spectrum and spent $15 billion transitioning from analog to digital…. Now, less than two years later, wireless companies want another 40% of TV spectrum. Hey! We already gave at the office! So we are in full battle mode to protect broadcasters from being forced to give up spectrum involuntarily.”
Later in a Q&A between Smith and CBS President-CEO Leslie Moonves, the broadcaster said that CBS also favored a voluntary giveback. “We’re fine with that because we’re not going to volunteer,” Moonves quipped.
Smith said wireless companies say there’s a coming spectrum crisis, but “the fact is there has been more spectrum allocated to mobile broadband than there is to capital to deploy it.”
Keeping excess spectrum, he quoted one wireless executive as saying, is a “good inflation hedge.”
Smith noted that at some point, there may be a need to allocate more spectrum to wireless but “that time hasn’t come yet and before anything is done, we believe a respected third party, like the Government Accounting Office, should conduct a comprehensive inventory of what spectrum is out there and more importantly, how much of it being used today.”
Acknowledging that the NAB has even that much flexibility is something new, Smith confessed. “Until last year, NAB was viewed as The House of No — almost no matter the issue — which is not a long-term strategy for success, especially when trying to navigate the political minefields of Washington. In politics we always say you can’t beat something with nothing.”