On Wednesday, Chairman Genachowski outlined his goals for spectrum reform to deliver on the promise and potential of this country’s mobile broadband future.   In response, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) issued two separate statements promising (again) that broadcasters will work with policymakers to address our country’s spectrum challenges, but then demonstrating that NAB is not yet interested in real cooperation.

First, NAB attempted to sell the notion that their 1950’s-era broadcast transmission model is somehow a superior technology – as if nothing better has happened technologically in the last 50 years.  Then, they seem to argue that consumers really prefer their model, despite overwhelming evidence that U.S. consumers are embracing, indeed demanding, the “any content, anywhere” promise of mobile broadband.  Any American even remotely aware of what’s going on knows this.  Simply put, consumers no longer want the old, centrally-controlled content delivery model the broadcasters offer.  Only 10% of households now depend on over-the-air television, and that number is dropping like a stone.

As if striving for a trifecta of incongruity, NAB then insinuated the problem isn’t their own massive warehousing and underuse of precious spectrum resources.  Instead, the problem is everyone else.   It’s not their 1950’s transmission method that’s inefficient; the fault is with modern devices that receive their signals.  And somehow those companies making the largest capital investments in the U.S., and perhaps the largest private capital investments in American history, aren’t investing fast enough to suit the broadcasters. 

In considering these arguments from NAB, one should keep in mind their history.  Broadcasters still benefit from generous, and free, 1950s spectrum allocations by the government that today serve only a sliver of U.S. households.  Yet despite their claims they still need this massive amount of spectrum for over-the-air broadcasting, they fought for, and still defend, government rules that require competing video providers to carry their signals.

This should give any policymaker pause, because if NAB truly needs this spectrum for broadcasting, they should have no need of government rules making others carry their signals.  Perhaps they might claim one or the other, but to claim both is neither logical nor rational public policy.  And let’s not forget that NAB also wants Congress to mandate that wireless companies must include broadcast receivers in the devices we sell.

So, in summary, the government provided to NAB’s members, at no cost, all the spectrum they now have;  the government requires other companies to carry their broadcasts whether they want to or not;  and now NAB wants government to mandate that the wireless industry must create a market for their product even though few people seem to actually want it.  That’s chutzpah.

By contrast, the wireless industry is investing in America at a rapid pace.  Today, we deliver services to over 300 million Americans – people who seek out, choose, and can’t seem to get enough of our product.  We do this on spectrum largely acquired through auction, paying billions to the government for that right, and through commercial transactions.  We are delivering more revolutionary devices and more services to more people, and at faster speeds, than perhaps ever before in U.S. history.  We are bringing economic opportunity and growth everywhere we build or offer our services.  And we will invest billions more to acquire the spectrum needed to support 21st century demands.

The facts are clear:  Americans want more mobile broadband.  Mobile data consumption continues to explode while over-the-air broadcast viewership is in rapid decline.   Additional spectrum acquired through this spectrum reform will be auctioned commercially, and those dollars will in turn reduce the deficit and fund a vital public safety network.  Consumers, and taxpayers, will benefit.  And the broadcasters will still have plenty of spectrum to pursue whatever plans they have for over-the-air service.

America needs sensible spectrum reform.  Any serious person understands this is a national imperative.  It’s time for NAB to become part of the solution and to show some sincerity in its promises of cooperation.  Delaying tactics and accusations aimed at distraction are hardly the way to do this.

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