CEA'SShapiro: Broadcasters Have Terrified Hill WithPower To Demonize Legislators

Gary Shapiro, president & CEO of the Consumer
Electronics Association, continued to push for reclaiming broadcast spectrum
for wireless broadband Friday, saying broadcasters had "terrified"
Congress with their power to demonize legislators over the airwaves.

That came in an interview for C-SPAN's Communicators series, where he talked
about both his association policies and his new book, "The Comeback: How
Innovation Will Restore the American Dream."

Shapiro said the push by the FCC and administration for
more spectrum is the exact right thing to do given the coming spectrum
crunch and given that broadcasters are using their "borrowed"
spectrum to reach less than 10% of American homes, and can deliver their
signals via cable and satellite, and with the help of electronics companies'
help, locally over the Internet.

What about another new delivery system for
broadcasters--mobile DTV--which requires spectrum and creates opportunities for
consumer electronics companies supplying the receivers? Shapiro said
mobile TV is possible. He pointed out that Qualcomm tried it "and it
didn't work out." He conceded it had worked in other cultures "where
people are more used to watching TV on the go," but he said the more
likely on-the-go video service would be over the Internet.

But Shapiro also argued that broadcasters haven't really
gotten behind the service or promoted it, but if they do he thinks it is
supportable with the kind of spectrum slicing and dicing he advocates.

Asked by Telecommunications
Senior Editor Paul Kirby about his quote at the CEA convention
in Las Vegas earlier this month that broadcasters were spectrum
"squatters," and asked  how tough it would be for the government
to get that spectrum back, Shapiro said that broadcasters are a
"phenomenal political lobby" and have "terrified members of
Congress with their power to use their broadcast signals in a way which
demonizes members of Congress.

"The National Association of Broadcasters has no
interest in responding," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton.

Shapiro said there was nothing in the Constitution granting
viewers a right to get their TV over the air. "One of our dangers is that
people think they have all sorts of rights that perhaps they really don't
have." But the point is to prioritize, he said. "No American should
die for lack of healthcare," he said, "but, is an American going to die
because they don't have a free, over-the-air television signal? Hardly."

He pointed out that was a debate during the DTV
transition--CEA opposed the $2 billion program to subsidize converter boxes so
over-the-air viewers could continue to get a signal. "Definitely there
should be a type of service," he said. "But it is certainly clear now
that the billions of dollars that were spent were pretty much wasted."

That said, he supports paying broadcasters, likely billions,
to exit the spectrum, and supports the necessary congressional legislation
to do so. He says he thinks it will take leadership from the administration and
making the incentive auctions a national priority. He says there will be a
battle between broadcasters and the government over their relative take from
those auctions, but he believes Congress will resolve the issue.

Shapiro said he was proud of the DTV transition, and
even says his tombstone will be 16 by 9 (the aspect ratio of an HDTV set), and
believes that the government will be able to repack remaining broadcasters in
less spectrum as part of the reclamation effort.

Shapiro was asked whether it wasn't also incumbent upon his
member companies to be more efficient with the spectrum they already have. He
said there have been increases in what technology can do, but there are
boundaries of physics that they are running up against. He said he thought the
country was already on the verge of a spectrum crisis in some places today,
particularly given the rise in HDTV video over the Internet. "We need the
spectrum," he said.

Where the government isn't getting it right, he says, is in
a combination of spending policies and anti-business rhetoric that have not
exactly helped the country.

"When you use the phrase greed in conjunction with the word
business," said Shapiro, "that sends the wrong message" to the
public. He says that business has been demonized over the past couple of years
"because of a few bad apples."

He also pointed to policy issues. "Look, we've had two
unwinnable wars, stimulus packages, corporate bailouts, Medicare, Medicaid,
Social Security, Cash For Clunkers, all we've done is spend. Any business
person knows that is totally unsustainable." So, he says, "you have
leadership that's demonizing our business, and spending that is crippling our
future, and you have a major problem ahead of you, and the business community,
it's fair to say, is pretty concerned about that."

Why is he speaking out on those broader economic issues?
Shapiro said that his board has agreed that the association's strategy is to
say that the only thing that matters to the innovation economy is the health of
the U.S. economy, and there some concerns there that need addressing. "I
am speaking on behalf of the industry," he said.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.