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NAB president to FCC: Stop favoring broadband

President and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters Gordon Smith takes the FCC to task for its policies he said favor broadband over the broadcast industry. And he called on the Commission to come up with a National Broadcast Plan.

LAS VEGAS -- The broadcasting industry's top lobbyist said he's tired of his industry playing second fiddle to broadband in the eyes of the Federal Communications Commission. And he called on the agency to show its support for the industry through policies that promote the future of TV broadcasting.

NAB president and CEO Gordon Smith NAB

Speaking at the NAB's annual convention Monday, Gordon Smith delivered an impassioned speech where he accused the FCC of favoring the broadband market over broadcasters.

"Over the past five years, there has been an increasingly singular focus by the federal government on broadband," he said. "All the while, the FCC has continued to regulate broadcasters as if the world is stuck in the 1970s."

Smith's comments come a week after the FCC issued new rules that make it more difficult for local TV stations to form advertising sales partnerships. During the same meeting, the FCC also ended the practice of allowing multiple TV stations to negotiate distribution deals with cable and satellite operators.

Some in the broadcast industry fear the FCC is using these new rules as a way to strong arm broadcasters into giving up their spectrum, which will then be auctioned off to wireless broadband providers in the upcoming spectrum auction. The FCC is still working out the rules for the auction, which is scheduled to take place by mid 2015.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is expected to deliver a keynote address at the NAB tradeshow on Tuesday morning.

Smith said that the FCC's recent moves and its overemphasis on broadband has hampered the relationship between the industry and the regulatory agency.

"In light of the FCC's recent action, it's not surprising that broadcasters are finding it hard to trust that the FCC will follow through on its commitments during the incentive auction," he said.

Even though he said he understands the "goal of freeing up spectrum and believe[s] in smart spectrum policy, an equal aim should be to ensure that broadcasters and their viewers are not harmed in the process." He emphasized that TV broadcasters more than any other industry are taking a risk by participating in the auction.

"Ours is the only industry the auction can actually harm," he said.

He pointed out that the government has invested millions of dollars and spent a year of the FCC's time to produce the National Broadband Plan, which provided a roadmap for investment and innovation in the cable and wireless industries. And he called on the agency to open a similar inquiry for the broadcast industry that would help provide a roadmap for keeping US broadcasting strong in the US.

"The FCC must work collaboratively with broadcasters," he said. "It must demonstrate through its actions -- not just words -- that it is committed to ensuring broadcasting is a competitive force with a thriving future."

He suggested the agency develop policies in the plan that would do things such as encourage including FM radio chips in mobile phones and encourage the role mobile TV and the mobile emergency alert system, which uses broadcast spectrum to transmit public safety information, could be used. And he suggested the FCC not engage in one-off policy reviews of broadcast regulation, but instead conduct "a meaningful and thorough review of all these decades-old regulations."

He said that if the FCC was truly interested in competition it would encourage these deployments, especially since he said that broadband is not able to deliver video as efficiently as broadcasters. He said that when it comes to video over wireless broadband it "chugs along, buffers and crawls."

"A National Broadcast Plan would capitalize on broadcasting's one-to-many network architecture that transmits one signal to many receivers -- its service area spanning hundreds of square miles," he said. "If consumers want access to large, live events, broadcasting must be part of the solution."

The problem, of course, is that broadcasters themselves have not shown a willingness to invest in many of the new technologies that Smith pushed during his speech. Five years after the technology was standardized to provide mobile TV and three years after the industry organization Dyle was formed to promote it, the industry has barely moved the needle in terms of mobile TV adoption.

There are many obstacles standing in the way, such as not having the necessary technology embedded in mobile devices and a lack of content rights from some major networks. But another big barrier has been the fact that the broadcasters themselves have not invested in the technology to transmit mobile TV signals.

"Lighting up their stations with mobile TV is the one thing that broadcasters can control," Salil Dalvi, senior vice president for digital distribution for NBC Universal, said following a panel discussion discussing mobile TV at the NAB show. "And they haven't done it. So I'm not encouraged. I can't guarantee them that deploying the technology for mobile TV will make it a success. But I can guarantee that if they don't do it, it won't succeed at all."

He added, "They just have to jump in and do it."