Editorial: Anticipate, Facilitate, Support

Love them or hate them—and there are those in
both camps—Sinclair doesn’t shy away from speaking
its mind, particularly on the technology front. During the decade-long run-up to the first digital TV transition, the company argued
for establishing a mobile transmission standard that would make it easier for
broadcasters to get moving and deliver their signals to increasingly mobile viewers.

Fast-forward to last week, when Sinclair filed its comments in the FCC’s incentive
auction rulemaking, and they are again pushing for a new standard that will
allow broadcasters to potentially thrive, rather than just survive.

That point is an important one and one that may have gotten lost in broadcasters’
effort to limit the damage from the FCC proposal. We, too, have been
guilty of accepting that the goal on the other side of the incentive auctions was
for broadcasters to emerge with as few cuts and bruises as possible.

But Sinclair points to the FCC’s talk about wanting to promote investment and
innovation—the FCC is big on flexible use—and growth in the communications
sector, and rightly asks: What about us?

If FCC chairman Julius Genachowski means it when he says his goal is a
robust broadcast business on the other side of the auctions—and we’re taking
him at his word—then why not bake new opportunities for broadcasters into
the DNA of the process?

The FCC should “anticipate, facilitate and support” an improved and evolving
service, Sinclair argues, a service that can “evolve now and in the future to
embrace new technology and adapt services to the demands of the market with
minimal government involvement.” Certainly, the FCC has been trying to get out
of the way of wireless companies by loosening its restrictions on terrestrial use
of satellite bands, freeing up subsidies for wireless broadband and interceding to
goose local governments on tower citing—to the point of having to defend that
move in court against discomfi ted local franchising authorities.

For Sinclair, and a lot of others, giving broadcasters some more love would
include removing local ownership restrictions that continue to tie broadcasters’
hands even as the FCC extends its own hand to wireless carriers. That, however,
is the subject of a future editorial—and countless past ones.

Sinclair is not arguing for the FCC to add a new, more flexible, transmission
standard to the already complex auction framework, but instead to anticipate
that possibility and accommodate it.

“Perhaps the most fundamental failure of the [notice for proposed rulemaking]
is its assumption that television broadcasting is static and the FCC should not
consider, plan for or even acknowledge, a better television broadcast service in
the near future,” the broadcaster says.

Sinclair adds that it does not expect the FCC to turn the auction proceeding into
one about a new TV broadcast standard. Neither do we. But we join the company,
and other broadcasters, in calling on the commission to look beyond what broadcasting
is and on to what it can become. The auction should not be about limiting
the damage to broadcasting, but expanding the horizons for all communications.