Head broadcaster: Government shouldn't pick winners, losers

LAS VEGAS--The government should not choose winners and losers in the technology sector when allocating broadcast spectrum, says the senior lobbyist for television and radio broadcasters.

"Government is not very good at picking winners and losers," said National Association of Broadcasters CEO Gordon Smith, who until last year was a Republican senator from Oregon.

"What would be a terrible thing for the government to do, so soon after the digital transition, is to begin picking winners and losers,” he said.

Smith’s talk comes as the Obama administration and Democrats come under pressure from unprecedented interventions in the private sector. The government has spent hundreds of billions in bailing out banks, other financial institutions and auto companies General Motors and Chrysler. While much of the money from banks has been repaid, it is less clear whether loans to the automakers will be repaid.

The FCC is weighing a number of options that could hurt broadcasters, including taking airwaves from them to free up more resources for wireless broadband. It's all part of the Obama administration's goal of rolling out ubiquitous high-speed Internet service.

In Vegas, Smith and other broadcasters were trying to show how their industry is embracing new technologies through their use of spectrum.

He thinks the industry has two winners in mobile DTV and Sezmi, a start-up offing a new pay-TV service.

Mobile DTV, which essentially lets people watch live broadcast television on their smartphones, shows those arguing that broadcasting had become stale and outdated are wrong, said Smith, who heard the arguments while serving on the Senate Commerce Committee.

He said Sezmi, which depends on broadcast spectrum to deliver cable channels, is a superior service to cable and satellite and would be less expensive.

Both products are examples of why the FCC should not try to reallocate broadcast spectrum, Smith said. By doing so, the FCC would be standing in the way of new consumer-friendly services.

The Consumer Electronics Show became a crucial venue for broadcasters to gain traction with technology taste-makers. The FCC is weighing all its options, including taking airwaves from broadcasters and government agencies, to free up more resources for wireless broadband. It's all part of the Obama administration's goal of rolling out ubiquitous high-speed Internet service.

The event also illustrated the realization by both Washington lobbyists and Silicon Valley innovators that they need each other. NAB is using start-ups like Sezmi to convince regulators of its industry's viability. At the same time, entrepreneurs are finding they can no longer ignore the political scene.