Todd Schurz was the official representative of the National Association of Broadcasters at the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet hearing on the topic of voluntary spectrum auctions involving television stations. Here is what he had to say.
Good afternoon, Chairman Walden, Ranking Member Eshoo, and members of the Subcommittee. My name is Todd Schurz, I am the President and CEO of Schurz Communications, based in Mishawaka, Indiana. I am testifying today on behalf of the National Association of Broadcasters.
Schurz Communications began broadcasting in 1922, making me a fourth generation broadcaster. Today, we have 10 television stations and my company has a presence in 14 states, including Michigan, California, Florida, Georgia, and Pennsylvania.
The beauty of television broadcasting is its “one to many” architecture. For high-demand programming, like the Super Bowl, there is no limit to how many viewers can tune-in. The same programming, delivered on a broadband system, would overload the network.
The transition to digital television has thrown open the doors of opportunity and innovation. Whereas in analog, I could only provide a single stream of programming, today with digital, I can provide that same programming in high definition, and at the same time, offer additional multicast channels and mobile DTV.
Hundreds of broadcasters are taking advantage of new multicast opportunities, providing viewers with niche foreign language programming, religious programming, emergency local weather information, and even high school sports. The Bounce TV Network, recently launched by majority owners Martin Luther King III and Andrew Young, is the country’s first broadcast network aimed at African-American audiences. It’s set to debut this fall on many multicast channels.
Going digital has also delivered on the promise of mobile television. With mobile DTV, viewers can tune in to live local news, emergency information, weather, sporting events or entertainment programs from the convenience of their car, at the beach-wherever they may be. Today, over 70 stations are offering mobile DTV service, and hundreds more are moving forward with the nationwide rollout of mobile DTV.
Since the digital television transition our company has added local news in high definition, multilingual newscasts and expanded weather programming in our tornado alley stations. All of this is available for free. And the future offers additional possibilities, such as datacasting and 3DTV. Broadcasters want to make sure that viewers continue to be the beneficiaries of broadcast innovation. And innovation is necessary for us to stay competitive with an ever-growing number of new competitors.
Now remember, it was just two years ago that television broadcasters completed the digital television transition. As part of the DTV transition, television broadcasters returned 108 MHz of spectrum – nearly 30 percent of our spectrum. This freed up spectrum for both public safety and new commercial wireless services. But as part of that give back, the FCC repacked broadcasters onto fewer channels, which was complex and disruptive for viewers. Now, just a couple of years later, the FCC has returned to broadcasters asking us to do it again and asking for another 40 percent of our spectrum.
We are committed to being part of the broadband solution, but there is only so much that the laws of physics will allow us to do without crippling our ability to serve our local communities now and in the future.
Broadcasters have never objected to truly voluntary incentive auctions, but we do feel strongly that protections need to be built into spectrum legislation to ensure the future competitiveness and viability of local television broadcasting. Here are four important safeguards:
1. No broadcaster should be forced to relocate to an inferior spectrum band;
2. Any repacking by the FCC should protect viewers by maintaining the current reach of a broadcaster’s signal;
3. No station should be subject to increased interference; and
4. Broadcasters should be held harmless from the cost of repacking.
Importantly, in the drive to advance broadband and relieve network congestion, we cannot and should not focus only on spectrum supply. There also needs to be a comprehensive examination of how we can capture more efficiencies from wireless carriers and the consumer electronics industry, including cell splitting and Wi-Fi technology, improved receivers, and migrating to voice over Internet Protocol. We all know that the pace of technology is unrelenting and tomorrow’s innovations will help solve many of the anticipated wireless capacity issues.
In conclusion, we appreciate the Committee’s thoughtful and deliberate approach to the spectrum issue. Remember, once we re-allocate this spectrum, once broadcasters who want to continue to provide service are repacked in a harmful way, there is no going back. We get only one shot at this. We need to do it right to ensure that viewers do not lose access to the news, entertainment, and vital emergency programming that broadcasters provide.
I am as excited about broadcasting’s future as I am proud of our past. Our company has no plans to return our spectrum. For that reason, I ask that any spectrum legislation be crafted to protect our ability to continue to serve the viewers of our local communities.
Thank you and I am pleased to answer any questions.