McAdams On: Mr. Smith
July 15, 2011
CARMAGEDDON: What does it all mean, Mr. Smith? You were
definitely a big “get” for the National Association of Broadcasters. A former
moderate Republican senator from Oregon with no major scandals stuck to your
name? The NAB board had to be weeping tears of joy when you accepted the cloak
and scepter. No offense to your predecessor, but he was a slogan guy. You are
an actual-if-completely-calculated conversational guy. With a full head of hair, which in Washington plays a bit like Keanu Reeves in wrap-around sunglasses and a trench coat.
So one can only imagine the reaction this week when you endorsed Mitt Romney
for president. Something like the House of Lords when tea is late--and a great
murmuring ensued. Yours is said to be a personal endorsement, which makes
sense, given your and Mr. Romney’s likewise membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints, and your similar political and tonsorial proclivities. But
it’s a bit hard to separate this entirely from your role at NAB.
You are the face of broadcasting in Washington, D.C., and it’s a Democratic
Administration bent on handing the broadcast spectrum over to the wireless
industry. Do you suppose you could have timed your endorsement a wee bit
better? I suppose it’s no secret anyway, since you’re listed as a host for one
of his Oregon fundraisers. But still, that’s Oregon. You, of all people, know
that no one in Washington, D.C. who is not from Oregon has any idea what goes
on in Oregon.
Granted, you’re not in the easiest of positions. Despite Mr. Gary Shapiro’s
most excellent histrionics about baseball, mom, apple pie and more spectrum for
wireless, we all know the debate’s about debt. The White House is doing what
any U.S. household would do when the bill collectors are on the front step. It’s
tagging everything for a yard sale and posting the rest on eBay. It doesn’t
matter at that point how much you paid for something, like the billions already
spent on the digital TV transition. What matters is choking the change out of every
pants pocket you have.
The guys who want a monopoly on radio frequency spectrum say it’ll bring $33
billion. Is that some sort of tacit promise? Maybe the feds should get that in
writing from the telecom industry. It sounds a bit like some of the numbers
floated before the last TV spectrum auctions, numbers designed specifically to fill a
line item on a budget bill rather than reflecting any sort of relationship with reality.
So given this rock and hard place, I get why you keep moving the line in the
sand. You’ve got spectrum reclamation bills coming at you from both sides of
the aisle, despite this being a Democratic agenda. In your testimony before a
House subcommittee today, you just asked for four specifics--one and only one
incentive auction; relocation reimbursement; no pushing into VHF; and
coverage-area protection. That pretty much amounts to concession, and possibly
taking TV away from those faceless people in flyover states during a Romney
Administration. I can’t wait to hear the resulting flackage about replacing
free TV service with a $200-a-month wireless broadband plan. If that’s not an
airwave tax, I don’t know what is.
Maybe you know better than the rest of us that the spectrum incentive auction
bills will get hung up in the budget battle. Or better yet, by something as
inane as whether or not to give the D-Block to the first responders who can’t
even coordinate their Motorolas. Hopefully, it will get hung up by people who
care more about brass tacks than rhetoric, like the Midwesterners you addressed
in your editorial for the
News Horizon. Frankly, I wish the NAB would have taken its case to the
people long ago a la the late Charles Kuralt and his RV. Now, we’re a bit down
to the wire, which has me wondering if tossing in with Mitt is a back-up plan.
He’ll need ambassadors. You might even get an assignment in a country that
still has free TV.
Deborah D. McAdams