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NAB’s Smith calls FCC’s Broadband Plan a ‘great spectrum grab’

In his first “State of the Industry” address, NAB president and CEO Gordon Smith charged that the FCC’s “great spectrum grab” is as voluntary “as Marlon Brando saying in ‘The Godfather’ that he wanted either the guy’s signature or his brains on the contract.”

Smith was decidedly blunt in his comments. “How voluntary is it when the plan says, and I quote: ‘The government’s ability to reclaim, clear and re-auction spectrum is the ultimate backstop against market failure and is an appropriate tool when a voluntary process stalls entirely,’” Smith asked his NAB audience.

The former Republican senator said the NAB’s concern is that the broadband plan will yank away more than one-third of the spectrum used for TV broadcasting so that wireless broadband companies can have more.

“Now, broadcasters just spent $15 billion to meet the government-mandated transition to digital; the government, incidentally, spent another $2 to 3 billion to ensure a smooth switch for viewers,” he said. “In fact, American consumers have spent untold billions swapping out analog TV sets for HDTV sets in detrimental reliance upon the urging of the United States Congress.”

In that transition, he said, broadcasters gave back more than a quarter of the TV spectrum, which the government then auctioned off to broadband companies. “And they haven’t even started to use it yet,” he said. “Unfortunately, this plan appears to be an example of unnecessary government intervention ... ”

Broadcasting, Smith said, is not an ATM that can keep spitting out spectrum. There is a minimum broadcasters need in order to be viable for the future.

He recommended getting a comprehensive inventory of unused spectrum, and exploring whether digital compression technologies and other innovations can solve this “alleged spectrum shortage” without forcing broadcasters off the air.

Calling spectrum reallocation “bad for consumers and bad for broadcasters,” Smith said, “it’s not voluntary, as originally advertised.”