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NAB to FCC: Don't Compromise Broadcast 'First Informers'

Broadcasters have plenty of suggestions for the FCC on how to make sure emergency communications get through, including making sure broadcast chips are in mobile devices and making sure not to compromise mobile DTV in its effort to reclaim broadcast spectrum for wireless broadband.

The difference between relying on one-to-one communications models and broadcasting could be the difference between life and death, broadcasters argue.

That message came Friday in National Association of Broadcasters comments in the FCC's inquiry into the reliability of communications networks during natural and man-made disasters.

"As the Commission moves forward with potential reallocations of broadcast television spectrum, it should carefully consider the impact that reallocating spectrum from free over-the-air television to paid cellular networks will have on the ability of citizens to receive emergency information, now and in the future," said NAB.

Broadcasters argue that they are best positioned to be "first informers" in emergencies, given their one-to-many architecture.

"Despite great advances in communications during that time - from cable and satellite technology to the rise of the Internet - local radio and television stations are, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, irreplaceable as a means to inform the public," said NAB. "Whereas wireline and wireless networks can be quickly overwhelmed by a surge in traffic, broadcast networks are infinitely scalable to additional users. In the critical moments before a disaster strikes, this reliability could be the difference between life and death."

NAB pointed to recent coverage of tornados in Missouri and floods in Tennessee as examples of broadcasters providing a communications lifeline when other Internet and mobile communications were "unreliable."

Broadcasters also argue that unlike wireless carriers, broadcasters create and distribute their own local news content.

NAB says it supports the work of the FCC, in tandem with Wireless carriers, on its Personal Localized Alerting Network, or PLAN, which it is testing in New York, it said that system was a complement, not a replacement, for a broadcast-based system. "No text-based technology with limited space for information or data can replace the "extensive and detailed information offered by broadcasters, as well as the reassuring impact of a human voice in emergency situations."

Broadcasters have been pushing manufacturers to install DTV receiver chips in their phones, which is a tough sell given that the head of the Consumer Electronics Association has argued broadcasting is a dying technology squatting on valuable wireless spectrum. It argues that it is in the FCC's interest to promote those chips as part of an emergency communications system. "Chips that permit users to access broadcast services on their mobile devices are inexpensive, small, and readily available," it says. "Including them inside mobile devices, and making them available to customers wherever they may travel, would enormously increase the accessibility of emergency information."

NAB also says that making it pay spectrum fees or forcing channels to share could also compromise its "first informer" status.