Broadcasters Push Back Against CEA Fingerwagging

WASHINGTON—Broadcasters this week defended their position on whether or not to consider participating in upcoming FCC proposed spectrum auctions after receiving a letter from the president of the Consumer Electronics Association for “reconsideration.”

CEA President Gary Shapiro, who strongly endorses the FCC’s initiative, sent a letter to NAB President Gordon Smith earlier this week, congratulating him on a successful NAB convention, but also asked him to stop expressing skepticism about TV stations’ participation in incentive spectrum auctions. Shapiro alluded to a headline in Politico, “NAB War on Wireless.” Smith, in his opening address at the NAB Show, said that the telecommunications industries “want us out of this game. We can't let down our guard."

In his letter to Smith, Shapiro implied that this meant that NAB was urging broadcasters not to participate in the auctions. "I write to ask that you reconsider your public (and also private) posturing on the law allowing voluntary incentive spectrum auctions,” Shapiro wrote. “Your speech at the NAB Show appeared to be rather discouraging of broadcaster participation in these auctions." Earlier this year, President Obama signed the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 which, among other things, set in motion incentive auctions to reclaim spectrum used by broadcasters for the purpose of making that spectrum available to wireless companies. The legislation specified that broadcaster participation in the auctions be “voluntary.”

In response to Shapiro, NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said, "NAB supported the voluntary incentive auction legislation passed by Congress and looks forward to working with the FCC and Congress to implement the bill. We would note that just like radio and TV, spectrum licenses of broadband providers like Verizon and AT&T are also of limited duration and subject to renewal."

Another broadcast association, the Advanced Television Broadcasting Alliance, formerly the Coalition for Free TV and Broadband, was more blunt in its response to Shapiro, actively encouraging broadcast stations to boycott the auctions and accusing CEA’s position as bordering on “arrogance.”

"We applaud the NAB,” said Alliance Chairman Irwin Podhajser said. “They understand, as we do, that it is not in the best interest of broadcasters and the American public that a couple of wireless monopolies get control of the broadcast airwaves. It will lead to less competition, less diversity and less jobs. There is simply a better way that will bring broadcasting into the future, create more choices for consumers and solve the wireless broadband crunch without handing control of the free airwaves over to a couple of wireless companies."

The Alliance is proposing an advanced television platform, one which supports a Broadcast Overlay Plan. This approach, the alliance said, will create more effective bandwidth for both television and wireless industries, and return substantially more revenues to the federal government to reduce the deficit than would any auction proceeds.

The architect of the Overlay Plan, Mark Aitken, vice president of Advanced Technology for Sinclair Broadcasting and an Alliance Board Member said, “Mr. Shapiro, in putting the wireless carriers in front of Broadcasters, not only fails in his vision for the future of the CEA's membership, but has lost sight of the singular role the TV Broadcast industry played in making HDTV and television his industry's product roadmap for more than a decade. If Shapiro decided to work with Broadcasters and help bring our vision of a 'Broadcast Overlay' and new TV platform to reality, he could participate in the next decade of revolution for his membership, and actually solve the bandwidth crunch of the carriers. It's time to work together...again."