Sen. Udall: Broadcasting Still Matters, Big Time

The continuing
value of free, over-the-air broadcasting, the first wireless technology, can
get lost amid the broadband bells and whistles and the clamor for more

That was the gist
of the message to broadcasters from Senate Commerce Committee member Tom Udall
(D-N.M.) Monday at the National Association of Broadcasters State Leadership
Conference in Washington. The conference is an opportunity for broadcasters
from around the country to strategize and then fan out to Capitol Hill and the
FCC to make the case for things like broadcast spectrum and a light touch
on retrans reform.

Udall, who is the
cousin of NAB President Gordon Smith (himself a former Republican Senator and
member of the Commerce Committee), also made a plea for an interoperable
broadband communications network and for the continued funding of public
broadcasting, which is targeted by Republican House leaders for big cuts.

Udall drew
repeated applause as he talked of the value of free TV and radio to those who
cannot afford it, and to those who need emergency information. The latter
dovetailed with his call for an emergency communications network, which he said
would be a priority of his on the Commerce Committee, as would be getting
broadband to rural areas. He praised broadcasters for giving up spectrum
already for emergency communications as part of the DTV

But while he said
broadband was a focus, he did not underestimate the value of broadcasting,
commercial and noncommercial. He said while many are getting used to paying
"top dollar" for TV, "many cannot afford cable or satellite TV," and "not
everyone has access to the Internet at home."

Udall said that
while smart phones and iPads are getting a lot of attention, broadcasting
was being taken for granted. He said that was perhaps because
"broadcasting has always been there for us." He said being there
really mattered in times of emergency, citing a recent cold snap in his home
state and the need for information on weather and safety, as well as the
availability of gas for heating homes or cooking meals.

"I am
excited about the potential use of Internet technologies for emergency
preparedness and response," he said. "Yet when it comes to alerting
the public, the reality is that not everyone has a computer, but most do have radios and TVs." In fact, one of
the reasons the FCC is exploring a universal set-top device is to use the
ubiquity of TVs to drive broadband adoption. It estimates that between 75% and
80% of households have computers, while 99% have TVs.

Udall said that
the fact that most households have TVs makes broadcasting important to business
and jobs. Those are the two of the key talking points when regulators talk
about the need for reclaiming broadcast and other spectrum for wireless
broadband. "We should remember that in this time of delicate economic recovery.
Advertisers and especially local businesses value their local broadcast
stations as an efficient way to meet their community and customers." He
also pointed out that TV still is a powerful campaign tool as well. "I think
Gordon and I both know, as elected public servants, something about the
importance of advertising on broadcast radio and TV."

He said that
other values of broadcast TV were those sharper HD pictures and the continued
community service. "Maybe that is what makes it easier for me to recognize the
value of free, over-the-air broadcasting today and to expect broadcasters to
continue to play an important role in our lives and future, but we should not
take that for granted."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.