FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski came 'armed' with olive
branches for his speech Tuesday at the National Association of Broadcasters,
but also with a definition of voluntary that does not include what the chairman
said would be the 'unprecedented' ability to refuse to move if the FCC
needs to repack their channels.
He also said spectrum reclamation would not impede mobile
DTV, favor urban over rural America,
and dismissed allegations of "massive spectrum warehousing," or calls
for the FCC to hold off until it had conducted a more extensive spectrum
inventory, all issues broadcasters have raised in defense of their service.
The Chairman said he would work with them to make
"Voluntary" incentive auctions and spectrum reclamation a win-win for
them and the country, praised them as being "pioneers in the development
and creative multiplatform distribution of "hyperlocal" news," and even
gave a broadband shout-out to ABC as among the first with an iPad app
within days of its release.
He also gave shout-outs to Raycom for launching community
web sites and Univision for developing web-only shows, saying broadcasters.
"I'm encouraged to see that many broadcasters are tackling the challenges
and seizing the opportunities of a multi-platform broadband world," he
said, though that was about broadcasters joining the move to a broadband world
rather than a nod to their traditional over-the-air roles.
"Many TV stations have historically been a vital source
of local news," he said, "and it's an important positive development
that TV stations seek to deploy their news resources to reach people in new
But it was not all pats on the back. he said not everyone is
investing in news, pointing out that "of the 28 commercial over-the-air
stations in the New York market, only 6 invest in news coverage of any kind,
and In Los Angeles, it's 8 out of 23." Those are among the key large
markets where the FCC needs broadcasters to give up spectrum for wireless
One of broadcasters' chief arguments for preserving their service is as a supplier of local news and information. The chairman made it clear that the stations not supplying news could not share in that defense. "Some stations choose not to invest in this type of content," he said, "and some simply can't - it just doesn't make economic sense for them. But it does affect any objective [view] of broadcast markets in view of national spectrum needs."
The chairman said that "voluntary," a term he
sprinkled liberally throughout the speech, does mean that no broadcaster
will be forced to offer up spectrum, and that "those who do choose to
participate will know exactly what the deal is before relinquishing any
"At the same time, however, voluntary can't mean
undermining the potential effectiveness of an auction by giving every
broadcaster a new and unprecedented right to keep their exact channel
location," he said. "This would not only be unprecedented, it would
give any one broadcaster veto power over the success of the auction - and be
neither good policy for the country, nor fair to the other participants."
Broadcasters reacted with polite applause and remain adamant that 'voluntary' mean just that. "We're in full battle mode," said NAB President Gordon Smith in a speech following the chairman's.
"As long as it remains voluntary we are fine with that, because we aren't going to volunteer," said CBS President Les Moonves.
Like Moonves, Post-Newsweek Stations President Alan Frank suggested he would not be auctioning off his spectrum.
Frank said the chairman was starting with assumptions broadcasters were not conceding, like participation in the auction.
"He had a few assumptions, and doesn't seem willing to talk about the first assumption," said Frank. "It was the success of the auction that he's focused on. But most of us will not be involved in the auction. We're focused on what to do with the spectrum.
Mike Malone and Ben Grossman contributed to this story.