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Editorial: Anticipate,Facilitate, Support

Love them or hate them—and there are those in both camps—Sinclair doesn’t shy away from speaking its mind, particularly on the technology front. During the decade-long run-up to the first digital TV transition, the company argued for establishing a mobile transmission standard that would make it easier for broadcasters to get moving and deliver their signals to increasingly mobile viewers.

Fast-forward to last week, when Sinclair filed its comments in the FCC’s incentive auction rulemaking, and they are again pushing for a new standard that will allow broadcasters to potentially thrive, rather than just survive.

That point is an important one and one that may have gotten lost in broadcasters’ effort to limit the damage from the FCC proposal. We, too, have been guilty of accepting that the goal on the other side of the incentive auctions was for broadcasters to emerge with as few cuts and bruises as possible.

But Sinclair points to the FCC’s talk about wanting to promote investment and innovation—the FCC is big on flexible use—and growth in the communications sector, and rightly asks: What about us?

If FCC chairman Julius Genachowski means it when he says his goal is a robust broadcast business on the other side of the auctions—and we’re taking him at his word—then why not bake new opportunities for broadcasters into the DNA of the process?

The FCC should “anticipate, facilitate and support” an improved and evolving service, Sinclair argues, a service that can “evolve now and in the future to embrace new technology and adapt services to the demands of the market with minimal government involvement.” Certainly, the FCC has been trying to get out of the way of wireless companies by loosening its restrictions on terrestrial use of satellite bands, freeing up subsidies for wireless broadband and interceding to goose local governments on tower citing—to the point of having to defend that move in court against discomfi ted local franchising authorities.

For Sinclair, and a lot of others, giving broadcasters some more love would include removing local ownership restrictions that continue to tie broadcasters’ hands even as the FCC extends its own hand to wireless carriers. That, however, is the subject of a future editorial—and countless past ones.

Sinclair is not arguing for the FCC to add a new, more flexible, transmission standard to the already complex auction framework, but instead to anticipate that possibility and accommodate it.

“Perhaps the most fundamental failure of the [notice for proposed rulemaking] is its assumption that television broadcasting is static and the FCC should not consider, plan for or even acknowledge, a better television broadcast service in the near future,” the broadcaster says.

Sinclair adds that it does not expect the FCC to turn the auction proceeding into one about a new TV broadcast standard. Neither do we. But we join the company, and other broadcasters, in calling on the commission to look beyond what broadcasting is and on to what it can become. The auction should not be about limiting the damage to broadcasting, but expanding the horizons for all communications.