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Smith To FCC: Voluntary Does Not Mean Forced Repacking

Broadcasters are in the battle of their lives against forces of "new media" painting them as stuck in the Howdy Doody era, and government overreaching for the next broadband app.

That was the gist of National Association of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith's speech to the NAB convention in Las Vegas Tuesday. And he said that forcibly repacking stations was not his idea of a voluntary spectrum reclamation plan.

Broadcasters have embraced the digital future, he said, suggesting that they now faced a concerted effort to squeeze the life out of a service that is forward-thinking and ready to be a partner in the broadband future.

He said the $15 billion broadcasters spent transitioning from analog to digital--0and giving up 25% of spectrum in the process--was in order to remain relevant in a digital age, but now less than two years later, wireless companies want another 40%.

"Hey, we already gave at the office," he said.

And while FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in his speech preceding Smith that voluntary did not mean stations who did not volunteer to give up spectrum would be able to decline repacking, Smith suggested that is exactly what it means.

"If a station simply can't make it and it volunteers to sell its spectrum, that's fine - as long as it doesn't harm another station that wants to stay in business and is excited about the future. The problem is that what is voluntary for the former could become involuntary for the latter. It concerns us that the FCC could forcibly relocate a broadcaster, crowd channels closer together, reduce their coverage, destroy innovation for viewers, increase interference, or otherwise degrade their signal."

Genachowski had anticipated NAB arguments, saying spectrum reclamation would not hurt mobile DTV, would not create a divide between urban and rural, and should not be delayed for an exhaustive broadband use survey, all arguments Smith raised in his speech after Genachowski's effort to shoot them down.

Clearly, the battle lines were drawn, and Smith didn't leave that conclusion for reporters to draw.

"This endangers our digital future, and violates President Obama's promise to prevent a world of digital haves and have-nots," he said. "So, we are in full battle mode to protect broadcasters from being forced to give up spectrum involuntarily."