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Rethinking Broadcasting's Power

I want you to imagine for a moment that you lived in a country where you had cable TV, satellite TV and satellite radio. You had the Internet, broadband, wi-fi and so forth. But imagine that local radio and television did not exist.

Imagine a country where all households had to pay $75 a month or more for TV entertainment, $10 a month for their radio and $50 a month for their high-speed Internet service.

Imagine that, other than the morning paper, news of the community was limited and there was no direct connection to the local community.

Now imagine that a new wireless technology came along and declared: We will give you free television. We will give you free radio. We will give you free local news, free local weather reports and school closings as they happen.

What's more, we will be a leading contributor to the local community. We will be as local as the bakery, the car dealership, the church or synagogue. We will volunteer billions of dollars of public service every year and help raise hundreds of millions for charity. We will be the first responders in getting out information on local emergencies, such as tornadoes and terrorist attacks.

If this new technology called broadcasting came along today, it would be hailed as a miracle. It would be the darling of legislators and regulators. They would herald it as an amazing addition to public and political discourse. They would declare it a tremendous advance in public safety in this era of concern over homeland security.

Sometimes we lose sight of the fundamentals in the pursuit of the flashy and the fleeting. I think something similar has happened to broadcasting, at least on the part of some public policymakers.

If broadcasting were a developing technology, the government would enthusiastically encourage its spread. Look how Congress is loath to regulate the Internet or to do anything that might stifle its growth.

When Democratic Senate Leader Tom Daschle spoke at an NAB event last month, he drew an interesting analogy. He said that, when Pierre L'Enfant was designing Washington, D.C., he didn't make the Capitol or the White House the center of the city, but rather the National Mall. L'Enfant believed that democratic fellowship arises when citizens are able to come together in a shared public space. Sen. Daschle called broadcasting our nation's public space. I could not agree more.

The NAB is committed to our industry's tradition of leading-edge localism. Leading-edge localism means that broadcasting will remain technologically strong. It means that we will remain economically vibrant. And it means that we will remain committed to the community. Leading-edge localism is how broadcasting will keep our advantage over the flashy and the fleeting. Never, ever
forget that localism is our franchise, and ours alone.

Excerpted from the National Association of Broadcasters President Eddie Fritts' address to the annual NAB convention.