NAB's Smith: Why Local Broadcast TV is Important


Staff member
Congress has been consumed in recent years with contentious debate over how best to preserve and enhance free and local broadcasting — the original wireless technology — while making available airwaves that can also be used to alleviate the much-hyped “spectrum crunch” for wireless broadband providers.
Those who dismiss the value of local television — or who would like to see broadcasting’s role in society diminished — seem clearly motivated by a desire to replace a free service available to all with a fee service available to some.

Despite some of the criticism from broadcasting’s biggest critics, these are the facts:

• The number of broadcast-only TV households is actually growing, not declining. A Knowledge Networks study last year found that more than 17 million households representing 45.6 million consumers receive television exclusively through over-the-air broadcast signals, up from 42 million such viewers the previous year.

• The OTA-reliant population includes one out of four Asian-American and Spanish-speaking households and 17 percent of African-American homes. Pay TV “cord-cutting” is also a growing trend for younger viewers, and today one out of five adults ages 18-34 is broadcast-only.

• Broadcast channels continue to attract the most television viewers, with more than 95 of the top 100 rated prime-time programs each week appearing on a broadcast network. Marquee events like the Super Bowl, the Final Four, the World Series, the Academy Awards and the Kentucky Derby are all on broadcast TV and available free to every American.

• When there’s an emergency weather situation, the local broadcaster is the source of information that often makes the difference between life and death. During the killer tornadoes that struck Joplin, Mo., and Tuscaloosa, Ala., last year, citizens and public officials credited local TV weather forecasters with saving scores of lives.

A thriving broadcast TV industry can be partly attributed to new services ushered in by the analog-to-digital transition. Over-the-air HD channels provide a higher-quality viewing experience than delivered through cable. New multicast channels have also expanded choices on the television dial, often offering foreign-language or other niche programming to previously underserved communities. For instance, Bounce TV, led by Martin Luther King III and former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young, launched recently as the first over-the-air broadcast TV network for African-Americans.

The NAB has pointed out numerous instances in which telecom companies have purchased spectrum licenses but announced no plans for deployment, raising questions about the pervasiveness of spectrum warehousing. Our calls were echoed only a few weeks ago by AT&T’s lobbyist. “Spectrum is in the hands of entities which either are sitting on it or not using it,” he told POLITICO.

Even when spectrum is in the hands of those saying they need it the most, there are doubts that it’s being put to the best use. A recent study by Citigroup, the largest financial-services network in the world, found only 192 MHz of the 538 MHz held by wireless carriers is in use.

Getting more spectrum into the hands of wireless carriers may not even be the best solution to alleviate mobile broadband congestion. According to an article in The New York Times, Martin Cooper, the inventor of the cellphone, believes technologies like Wi-Fi and smart antennas would make better use of the network. “Every 2½ years, every spectrum crisis has gotten solved, and that’s going to keep happening,” Cooper said. “We already know today what the solutions are for the next 50 years.”

Broadcasters stand ready and willing to work with policymakers to expand wireless broadband and address the other pressing issues facing the telecom industry. However, all stakeholders should reject glib and shortsighted solutions that might jeopardize the future of free and local TV.

Broadcasting’s best days lie ahead as both an engine of local economies and as an integral part of tomorrow’s technological world.
Read more: Opinion: Broadcasting as an engine for local economies - Gordon Smith -

I believe that the NAB made a good choice when they hired Gordon Smith to be their chief spokesman. He is articulate, well reasoned, and for the most part honest. Something that can't be said for his counterparts at CEA and CTIA, which seem to have no problem hiring pathological liars to lobby on their behalf. Of course, when you have the truth on your side it certainly helps.

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