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Former NAB Chief Weighs In On Spectrum Issues

April 11, 2011

LAS VEGAS - Former National Association of Broadcasters President Eddie Fritts said Monday that a proposal to persuade broadcasters to voluntarily give up some of their spectrum is not necessarily a done deal.

In an interview with Tech Daily Dose after receiving the NAB's distinguished service award at the group's annual convention, Fritts said the battle over the issue of incentive auctions could take more than a decade or more to sort out. The issue relates to a Federal Communications Commission proposal to entice broadcasters to voluntarily give up some spectrum in exchange for a share of proceeds from the auction of those airwaves.

Fritts said he does not believe the proposal is a foregone conclusion. He said there is still a lot of negotiation to come at the FCC and in Congress, which must authorize the proposal. "We know there is a thirst for these frequencies, but it has to be done right," he said.

He and others at the NAB show disputed claims that there is a national spectrum shortage. Fritts said while there is a shortage of spectrum in bigger markets such as Northeast, Chicago and Los Angeles, "there is not a spectrum crisis across the nation." FCC Media Bureau Chief William Lake acknowledged this in a late morning session, saying we are facing a "spectrum crunch, not crisis." But he warned it could turn into a crisis in coming years if regulators don't find more spectrum to meet the growing demand for wireless broadband.

Fritts, who left NAB in 2006 to start his own consulting firm, is credited with helping the industry win some key battles during his more than 20-year tenure. They include inclusion in the 1992 Cable Act of "must carry obligations," which require cable systems to carry a broadcaster's programming, and creation of the retransmission process for negotiating fees for cable and satellite firms to carry broadcast programming, which the FCC is overhauling. Fritts and the NAB also helped win a relaxation of media ownership rules in the 1996 telecommunications act.

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