FCC Chairman Engages on Future of Broadcasting

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler offered his thoughts this week on what the future of broadcasting could look like. While visiting the annual tradeshow of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), an organization that has been at odds with the decisions of the FCC in recent weeks, Chairman Wheeler stated, “I strongly believe that the interests of the American people are served by a vibrant broadcasting industry and include the continuation of broadcasting’s historic role as a principal conveyor of news and entertainment, and especially of its invaluable role as ‘first informer.’ My purpose today is optimism, not opposition.”

Chairman Wheeler argued that broadcasters should expand their self-perception beyond traditional broadcasting to being key information providers on the Internet.  He noted the growth of “Over-The-Top” (OTT) online content providers like Netflix and a Pew Research Center’s study showing a third of Americans getting accessing news videos online.  Wheeler declared, “Broadcast licensees are in the pole position to leverage off that trend to deliver broader OTT services anchored in local news and information.”  He suggested the FCC’s “Open Internet” (also known as “net neutrality”) and spectrum incentive auction efforts could potentially be beneficial towards such an end.

Earlier at the NAB Show, NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith reflected:

Our content, our connection to local communities and our spectral efficiency make us the envy of others. We are a competitive threat. I am not sure Washington views us this way, however. On one hand, government can treat us as if we are dinosaurs and does what it can to encourage TV stations to go out of business. On the other hand, the FCC says we are so important and powerful that two TV stations can't share advertising in the same market, while it's okay for multiple cable, satellite and telecommunications operators to do so. Which is it? Too powerful or irrelevant? It can't be both.

With some stinging words directed towards the FCC, he challenged the agency to prioritize a “National Broadcast Plan” just as it had developed a “National Broadband Plan.” 

In a nod to the public tension, Chairman Wheeler joked during his remarks, “I know what some of you are thinking: Gordon Smith and Tom Wheeler mano-y-mano in Las Vegas…that sounds like an awesome UFC pay-per-view. Obviously, that’s ridiculous. If Gordon and I were to fight it would be broadcast free, over-the-air.”

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: April 11, 2014