WASHINGTON, DC -- NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith testified this morning before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology in a hearing titled "Legislative Hearing to Address Spectrum and Public Safety Issues."
Below is a transcript of his prepared testimony.
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Good morning, Chairman Walden, Ranking Member Eshoo and members of the Subcommittee.
My name is Gordon Smith, and I am the President and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters. Thank you for inviting me here today to discuss your draft spectrum legislation, and in particular the voluntary incentive auction provisions.
Mr. Chairman, let me tell you at the outset, NAB is heartened that this discussion draft recognizes the need for a balance between raising revenues for the Treasury, making spectrum available for wireless broadband, and importantly for NAB, protecting television viewers and broadcasters through the process of voluntary incentive auctions.
Of course, intrinsic in the word "voluntary" is the notion that you will not be penalized for opting not to participate. Ensuring incentive auctions are voluntary is of paramount importance to NAB, so first and foremost, let me tell you that broadcasters appreciate the inclusion of the concept of truly voluntary incentive auctions in this draft.
While participation in an auction is voluntary, the subsequent "repacking" of broadcast stations to new channels following an auction is not voluntary. Based on the spectrum goal set by the FCC in the National Broadband Plan, a total of 672 full-power stations, including commercial and non-commercial stations across the United States, would be forced onto a new channel. That's nearly 40% of all TV stations in America. Contrast this to the 174 stations that were cleared from the spectrum in the DTV transition. Clearly, this new round of repacking would result in significant disruption and confusion for our viewers - and your constituents - who recently went through the DTV transition.
For this reason, we have focused on four key elements that NAB believes must be included in any voluntary incentive auction legislation to protect both television viewers and broadcasters. We ask that broadcasters be given the same opportunity as other industries to innovate with our spectrum, which means preventing the FCC from involuntarily moving stations from the U to V band. Your legislation does that.
We ask that legislation provide certainty to broadcasters - and those investing in broadcasting - by requiring only one incentive auction for broadcast spectrum. Your proposal does that.
We ask for reimbursement of station costs associated with relocating broadcast stations. Your legislation does that as well, although there may be a need to adjust the language to achieve the goal of holding harmless all the broadcasters that do not participate in the auction.
Finally, and most importantly, we ask that legislation preserve viewer access to over-the-air signals by replicating existing station service areas and covered populations. We also want to ensure that signals reach cable and satellite head-ends that rely on over-the-air delivery so that viewers continue to receive their broadcast channels.
To this point, we believe the bill's language could use some improvement. As drafted, the FCC is required to make "reasonable efforts" to preserve viewer access to over-the-air signals. I underscore the importance of having access to broadcast channels when we see weather seasons like the one we've had this year, with tornados ripping through communities. While public safety is the first responder, broadcasters are in fact the first informers. As you help one, we ask that you don't do damage to the other. We are partners and the public counts on us both.
In fact, in a recent study, 71% of people in Alabama first learned about the Alabama tornados through their local television station. Moreover, broadcast is relied on exclusively by 46 million Americans, and those numbers are the highest among Hispanic, low-income and rural communities. I believe these viewers deserve more than just "reasonable efforts."
For this reason, we would prefer stronger language that directs the FCC to preserve viewer access to stations [quote] "to the maximum extent possible" [unquote].
Because the broadcasters have the benefit of experience in the repacking process used during the DTV transition, we ask that the final bill include a requirement that the FCC utilize the same protection criteria used to create the Final Table of Allotments for digital television service.
Before I conclude, I would also like to take a moment to thank Chairman Emeritus Dingell and Congressman Green for their work in also putting together a strong bill that protects viewers and broadcasters through the incentive auction process, as well as Ranking Members Waxman and Eshoo with their spectrum bill released just yesterday. We appreciate the fine work by the members and staff on both sides of the aisle on this most important issue.
I would also like to offer two letters into the record - one from America's 50 State Broadcaster Associations to House Leadership, and the second a letter from the four network affiliates associations also to House Leadership.
Thank you again for the invitation to testify and I am happy to take any questions
The National Association of Broadcasters is the premier advocacy association for America's broadcasters. NAB advances radio and television interests in legislative, regulatory and public affairs. Through advocacy, education and innovation, NAB enables broadcasters to best serve their communities, strengthen their businesses and seize new opportunities in the digital age. Learn more at www.nab.org.