NAB: Use Airwaves To Fight Potential Spectrum Grab

The National Association of Broadcasters is calling on stations to take their case directly to viewers for the value of their service, as the drumbeat in Washington for reclaiming broadcast spectrum grows louder by the day.

The trade group's leaders suggest the FCC's upcoming broadband rollout plan could contain a potential missile aimed at their industry.

"The broadcast industry could see the greatest assault on the public airwaves since the 1980s, with the anticipated release of the FCC's National Broadband Plan set for February 17, 2010," said NAB President Gordon Smith and other top NAB officials in a Dec. 10 e-mail to stations.

The e-mail asks TV broadcasters to start using their airwaves to make the case for preserving their spectrum against calls for turning some or all of it over to wireless companies and potentially deep-sixing those beautiful HD pictures and multicast channels in the process.

According to a copy of the e-mail from Gordon Smith and the chairs of the Spectrum Commitee and TV board, NAB has produced a 30-second TV spot to "help position the spectrum issue in a pro-broadcaster, pro-consumer light" as a response to TV spots by wireless and telco groups "attempting to position a national broadband plan as having no potential drawbacks."

While they say NAB is working on the issue in D.C., they add that "we need your help. Broadcasters must push back and frame the issue in the public's continuing interest of free-over-the-air broadcasting in every local community in America."

They are asking the stations run it in "heavy rotation" over the Christmas holidays through early January (Dec. 25-Jan. 14). The spot is being delivered to stations Dec. 21.

The FCC's current inquiry into how broadcast spectrum might be reclamed or repacked so more can be turned over to wireless broadband--it has issued a notice for comment--comes against the backdrop of the FCC's national broadband rollout plan in which wireless is projected to play a big part.

FCC broadband advisor Blair Levin has been talking with broadcasters and Wall Street about possible scenarious, as the wireless and computer industries push for more spectrum.

On the same day the NAB e-mail went out, the FCC named its first Distinguished Scholar in Residence, Duke Law ProfessorStuart Benjamin, to ponder spectrum and First Amendment issues. That pick had some broadcasters seeing red, given his writings suggesting, only partly in jest he says, that broadcasters should be regulated out of existence by any means necessary so that their spectrum could be given over to wireless broadband.

Benajamin has just been named to moderate the first FCC workshop on content issues related to network neutrality, Speech, Democracy and the Open Internet, slated for Dec. 15.

The House Energy & Commerce Committee Communications Subcommittee is also holding hearings next week on bills requiring the government to figure out who is using what spectrum, and how efficiently.