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'Smart Broadcasting'Is Broadband

Julius Genachowski, Federal Communications Commission chairman, has made no secret of the fact that the agency is focused on the benefits of broadband as the communications delivery system of the future.

After all, it was the National Broadband Plan that served as the centerpiece for the early days of Genachowski’s tenure, and the implementation of that plan has become the focus of much of the balance to date.

The chairman has been pushing hard for incentive auctions that could open up new swaths of spectrum for wireless broadband, but at the price of reclaiming spectrum now in broadcasters’ hands.

As Congress vets that incentive auction proposal as part of the payroll tax package—it would help pay for tax cuts and benefit extensions—broadcasters continue to fight for their future as a player in the digital future. Broadcasters insist they are not opposed to the auctions, so long as those who opt not to give up their spectrum real estate still have a business to come back to.

The FCC chief suggests that broadcasters should look to the new digital platforms made possible through broadband for that future business plan, but he says he also is willing to work at removing barriers to broadcast success in a broadband world.

Genachowski says that once broadband is available to 100% of the country—one of the driving forces behind the reclamation of broadcast spectrum—the new over-the-top platform will benefit TV stations and networks, too.

Responding to questions submitted by B&C Washington bureau chief John Eggerton, Genachowski gives a 30,000-foot view of where broadcasters fit in his vision of the broadband communications landscape.

You spoke at theCESlast month about smartphones, smart TVs and textbooks and appliances, even fitness equipment—which could include the oxymoronic “smart dumbbells,” we suppose. What would “smart broadcasting” look like in the digital future you envision?

I’m encouraged to see that many broadcasters are working to seize the opportunities of a multiplatform broadband world—seeking to reach viewers wherever they are—experimenting with new technologies, new platforms and new business models.

Here are a few examples:

• ABC had one of the very first apps available on the iPad. Within 10 days of the iPad’s release, it was downloaded more than 200,000 times and served up several million ad impressions for ABC.

• NPR’s iPad app was recognized by Advertising Age in 2010 with their Media Vanguard Award for the Best Broadcaster iPhone/iPad/Android Apps. And local media apps have emerged, including at WXYZ in Detroit and WCPO in Cincinnati.

• Wired and wireless broadband is a growing means of distribution of content, and one that many programmers are moving aggressively to use in smart ways.

Smarter broadcasting also means more efficient use of broadcast spectrum.

The broadcasters’ initiative on mobile broadcast television is an example of achieving greater efficiencies with digital broadcast spectrum by extending signals to mobile viewers without requiring more spectrum. I support experimentation around mobile DTV.

Smart and efficient broadcasting also should relate to the needs of a particular broadcaster. So, if a broadcaster is not in a position to program all of its multicast channels, it may be smarter and more efficient for that broadcaster to contribute its unused capacity to an incentive auction in exchange for a capital infusion from auction proceeds.

This innovative market-based approach is a smart policy that can be a win-win-win for the public, for broadcasting and for mobile broadband. What is your message to broadcasters still concerned that the FCC is too focused on broadband?

All of us at the commission take seriously the opportunities and challenges involving all forms of communication within our authority, and that certainly includes broadcasting. The commission tackled quite a few broadcaster issues in 2011, and there are certainly broadcaster issues on our plate for 2012.

Beyond that, in today’s world, virtually all broadband issues affect broadcasters. I’m looking forward to ongoing engagement with broadcasters on broadband issues, and I’m particularly looking forward to any ways we can work with broadcasters to remove barriers to innovation and success for broadcasters in a multiplatform broadband world.

Universal broadband adoption and deployment is job one for your FCC. Why should programmers—content providers—support that push? What’s in it for them?

If we move broadband adoption in the U.S. from 67%, where it is now, to 100%, we’ll have doubled the size of our online market. A bigger market is good for programmers providing content on broadband platforms, including national and local broadcasters. Of course, we need to ensure that intellectual property is protected on all platforms.

Universal broadband deployment is also vital for the U.S. economy. It’s a fundamental source of job creation in the U.S., for innovation and exports, vital for our global competitiveness.

Can you give us a brief update on your efforts to pare back non-needed regulations and modernize the agency?

Together with my colleagues, I’ve made agency reform a top priority. One of my first acts was to appoint a special counsel for FCC reform and set the goal of making the FCC a model of excellence in government. In our world, both for companies and for the FCC, standing still can mean moving backward. As part of our ongoing efforts to review rules on the books, the FCC has eliminated 210 obsolete regulations. And as a result of our Data Innovation Initiative, we have identified 25 data collections that may be eliminated.

We have already taken steps to eliminate seven data collections, and we’re in the process of evaluating the remaining 18. With respect to the broadcasters, the FCC recently proposed moving the television broadcasters’ public inspection file online to make data more easily available to the public and reduce burdens on broadcasters.

The agency has also taken steps to reduce the burden on broadcast radio licensees by allowing licensees to rely on previous technical filings instead of submitting a new set of technical exhibits.

E-mail comments to and follow him on Twitter: @eggerton