NAB CEO Warns FCC Policy Could Make Video Future "Available Only to the Wealthy"

Gordon Smith describes "unnecessary collision course toward two Americas — one where the video future is available to those who can afford to pay and one where they cannot.”
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images

FCC policy decisions “have unwittingly put us on an unnecessary collision course toward two Americas — one where the video future is available to those who can afford to pay and one where they cannot," said National Association of Broadcasters president and CEO Gordon Smith on Monday at the NAB Show in Las Vegas.

Smith attributed this situation to "some at the FCC [who] have been so enamored with mobile broadband and Silicon Valley." During his opening address, Smith asserted that free broadcasting is a public service that “should be cherished by the FCC, rather than ensuring its availability only to the wealthy."

Citing the spectrum auctions that began last month, Smith warned that broadcasters face a “daunting challenge” in that “the majority of remaining broadcasters will have to move their channel to make room for the wireless carriers.

“Now, policymakers should, and I believe will, ensure time and funds are sufficient to allow broadcasters to complete their moves," said Smith, "so that no viewer is left in the dark because a station is forced off the air or left to foot the bill for expenses that Congress did not intend and stations cannot afford.”

The NAB chief received loud applause as he asserted that "there is no higher and better use of spectrum than serving diverse audiences with free and local TV programming for all citizens."

Smith also addressed retransmission consent, warning that if the FCC “tip the scales” on these rules — effectively “upending the right for broadcasters to fairly negotiate for the value of their signals” — this could “guarantee that the content viewers most need, the content they most want and enjoy … will only be available to those who can afford it.”

Another topic was the development of ATSC 3.0, a next-generation broadcast standard that is being demonstrated this week at NAB. Smith reported that last week, a petition was filed by NAB, along with consumer electronics, public safety and public television advocates, asking the FCC for approval on this standard, allowing stakeholders to “voluntarily choose” to adopt it.

He asserted that ATSC 3.0 has the potential to make TV “even stronger,” with options such as Ultra HD images, immersive audio, personalized services and interactivity. “The new standard is designed to better align broadcasting’s broadly deployed, spectrally efficient and free service with an increasingly IP-based world, enabling broadcasting to more easily integrate into a wide array of popular devices," said Smith. "If successful, a new standard would drive competition with other wireless services and video and data providers."