NAB CEO Gordon Smith: 'We Are in Full Battle Mode to Protect Broadcasters'

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Gordon Smith

The fight for spectrum continues as broadcasters are asked to “voluntarily” give up spectrum for auction.

LAS VEGAS — “We are in full battle mode to protect broadcasters from being forced to give up spectrum involuntarily,” asserted NAB president and CEO Gordon Smith to thousands during his keynote Tuesday at the National Association of Broadcasters Show.

The battle for spectrum continued as broadcasters are asked to “voluntarily” surrender spectrum for auction, in anticipation of a looming “spectrum crisis.”

Suggesting that there is a “capacity crunch, not a spectrum crisis,” Smith encouraged a comprehensive inventory of spectrum, saying that “apparently [wireless carriers] have determined that is it cheaper to buy our TV channels at auction than to build out their networks.

He used the recently announced AT&T and T-Mobile merger to make his point. “Corporate executives stated that one of the greatest benefits of the proposed merge is that AT&T’s network capacity would double by adding T-Mobile’s already built towers in urban areas. Moreover, recent press reports indicate that certain companies licensed to provide mobile broadband service are simply not making the necessary investments to deploy their service, but instead are sitting on more than $15 billion of spectrum they aren’t using.”

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who also spoke on Tuesday at NAB, suggested that delaying spectrum auctions puts at risk the country’s  “economic and innovation leadership.” He added that it is projected that $30 billion could raised with the spectrum actions, and that he is “disappointed” by arguments such as that there is no spectrum crunch and that there should be more spectrum inventory.

“The cost of delay would be severe,” he argued. “At last year’s NAB, I spoke about how demand for spectrum was dramatically outstripping supply driven by smartphones, which places a demand on spectrum that is 24 times as much as feature phones.

“This year, analysts expect 55 million tablets to be sold,” he added, “and those tablets place a demand on spectrum that is 120 times that of old feature phones.”

Countered Smith during his address: “Recent projections show the demand for smartphone capacity is likely to slow — mainly because wireless providers want to change you a fee, while broadcasting comes to you for free.

“Another reason may be that while some apps are fun, the are not important to everyday life and their novelty wears off. … I guarantee that none of [my] apps come close to matching what broadcasting contributes to local communities.”

He urged the government to “keep what is voluntary, voluntary.”

CBS president and CEO Leslie Moonves weighed in on the topic during his keynote conversation with Smith at NAB.

“As long as it remains voluntary, that’s fine because we are not going to volunteer,” Moonves said. “It would hurt our ability to deliver what we are going to deliver.

He added: “I support the idea of getting broadband to Americans, the devil is in the details and we need to protect our business.”