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Smith asks lawmakers to strengthen bill language to preserve access to OTA television

Gordon Smith, NAB president and CEO, last week expressed overall support to the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology for draft spectrum legislation that will make spectrum available for first responder communications and give the FCC authority to conduct voluntary incentive auctions to clear portions of TV spectrum to meet its National Broadband Plan goals.

However, in his testimony given July 15, Smith asked members of the committee to strengthen language in the bill so that it “directs the FCC to preserve viewer access to stations ‘to the maximum extent possible.’”

The bill’s draft language requires the FCC to make “reasonable efforts” to preserve access to over-the-air TV signals. Smith, however, underscored the importance of preserving access to broadcast channels to reach the public with safety information. “While public safety is the first responder, broadcasters are in fact the first informers,” Smith told the committee.

“As you help one, we ask that you don’t do damage to the other,” he said. “We are partners, and the public counts on us both.”

Smith reminded committee members that while the bill gives broadcasters the freedom to choose to participate or not in the auction of their spectrum and receive a portion of the proceeds, there is nothing voluntary about the channel repacking the commission is planning to free spectrum.

“Based on the spectrum goal set by the FCC in the National Broadband Plan, a total of 672 full-power stations, including commercial and non-commercial stations across the United States, would be forced onto a new channel,” Smith said. “That's nearly 40 percent of all TV stations in America. Contrast this to the 174 stations that were cleared from the spectrum in the DTV transition. Clearly, this new round of repacking would result in significant disruption and confusion for our viewers — and your constituents — who recently went through the DTV transition.”