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Broadcasting, Wireless, Make Respective Pitches for Spectrum

The FCC opened its new Technology Experience Center Monday with a ribbon-cutting, brief remarks by regulators and association execs, and the promise from FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski that it was "just the beginning" of giving FCC staffers and visitors hands-on access to broadband-driven technologies.

But in addition to the technology bells and whistles, on display was the ongoing divide between broadcasters and consumer electronics and wireless companies over that digital future.

National Association of Broadcasters Chief Technology Officer Kevin Gage took his few minutes at the podium to make the case for the future of "free and local broadcasters." The NAB welcomed the chance to highlight the role that TV And radio stations "will be playing" in the digital future.

He said broadcasters were adapting and delivering content to cell phones, tablets, laptops and other devices. "Radio and TV stations know that in order to stay relevant in a society that is on the go, it is imperative that we program our stations on multiple platforms to attract and enable the widest possible audience."

While wireless companies have painted broadcasting as a dying technology and squatters on valuable spectrum, Gage pointed out that broadcasting was "the original wireless technology and the original over-the-top technology." But Gage suggested it was not going to rest on those laurels. "We stand ready to reinvent our business model through creative and innovative use of digital technology."

He also suggested it was in the nation's best interest that broadcasters be successful in that effort. "It is important to remember the importance of broadcast service to American communities," he said, evoking their response to the tornados and flooding of this past spring. "It serves as exhibit A of the need or local broadcast service."

He said policymakers should "encourage the viability of a strong and vibrant mobile broadcasting business," saying the industry was betting its future on such innovation.

Gage was followed by Julie Kearney, VP of regulatory affairs for the Consumer Electronics Association. After pointing out that Gage had been reading his remarks from a tablet, she said that a critical component of innovation is the availability of wireless spectrum for broadband. She said the advent of tablets and smart phones has revolutionized communications and boosted the economy, but said that "cannot continue without more spectrum for wireless broadband."

She told the audience that she thought the hands-on experience with the new devices at the center would give them "a better appreciation for the need for more spectrum."

Seconding that spectrum call was David Diggs, VP, wireless internet development at CTIA: the Wireless Association. Diggs put it bluntly. "We know that the chairman has been focused on the goal of bringing more spectrum to market and has the support of the President and Congress in this effort. The ability to access the mobile Internet anywhere is vital to all Americans...The U.S. wireless industry must have more spectrum as soon as possible."

National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Michael Powell was not part of the spectrum debate, using his time to praise the chairman for continuing the tech focus Powell brought to the FCC chairmanship, calling technology the "enduring plot" of the telecommunications story.

With NCTA's biggest member, Comcast, among the 20 companies donating technology to the center, Powell pointed out that it was a way for the cable industry to talk to the FCC "through our tools and technology," and called it an "exceptional addition to the way we work with each other."