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Editorial: Cue the Applause

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski will be going to Las Vegas next week to face one of his toughest audiences—broadcasters trying to survive the FCC’s traveling wireless broadband salvation show.

The FCC’s push toward reclaiming broadcast spectrum for wireless broadband has been relentless, a juggernaut fueled by the app-happy crew at the FCC and the 4G-whizzers in the Obama Administration who want 95% penetration for 4G service in five years. (Given this, they should be applauding AT&T/T-Mobile if that meld furthers the goal. But that is another editorial.)

We have to give Genachowski props for flying into the lion’s den, as it were. Of course, the senatorial courtesy of NAB President Gordon Smith will certainly win out, and we’re confident that the chairman’s greeting from the crowd will be courteous and respectful.

But we know how Genachowski could be leaving Las Vegas to the echo of cheers: By conceding that a spectrum reclamation plan drawn up well over a year ago may now be in need of revisiting, with broadcasters part of the solution, not the problem.

Here is what we think he should say:

My fellow broadcasters [Genachowski is a former USA Broadcasting exec], we can all agree on some key points: broadband is a critical infrastructure challenge and opportunity; it will require rethinking spectrum policy; everything should be on the table.

But in this new equation, the value of broadcasting is not simply in dollars and cents, but in its over-the-air audience of millions of citizens, many of them the poor, rural, elderly and minority populations whose interests can be, and must be, served by any national plan for our media future.

After all, those are the very viewers we spent more than a billion dollars to equip with converter boxes, and delayed the DTV transition to insure they could receive over-the-air TV, a lifeline for emergency information and local news and information.

Broadcast spectrum is beachfront property, but that does not mean broadcasters don’t have the capacity and potential to develop it with our help to meet the new broadband demands of the digital age, while at the same time serving those key populations who rely on over-the-air TV (applause).

There are capable and experienced broadcasters in this audience who can partner with wireless companies to help share the load of broadband traffic. As the nation’s No. 1 source of local news, and its on-air first responders, broadcasters are not a blot on the whiteboard of a media remake, but a key partner in rewriting that future.

Let me assure you that no course is set in stone, and that the FCC is open to any path that achieves the ultimate goal of a vibrant—and open and transparent—media world that combines the best of broadcast and broadband technologies to serve, not just the iWant generation, but all Americans.