Progress waits for no man—nor does it wait for broadcasters. This was the message delivered by William E. Kennard, guest speaker at the recent National Association of Broadcasters Convention, held in Las Vegas. As chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, he urged his audience to become "consummate advocates in the digital age." He also encouraged the attendees to welcome new ideas, following in the spirit of CBS founder and builder, William Paley.
Speaking on the theme of convergence, Kennard challenged the assembly to seek a new business model for the digital age. He said he was frustrated by the behavior of broadcasting leaders. Industry heads have pleaded with the commission for more time—or for the government to micromanage the changes necessitated by the digital age. They've also complained about the threats posed by the Internet and the ascendance of cable TV networks.
Cost Issue Raised
Several points have broadcasters distressed. For example, high costs are associated with converting TV stations to carry high-definition and digital programming. Further complicating matters is the fact that the public has yet to embrace these new technologies.
Broadcasters want government intervention. They believe cable operators should be made to carry digital signals to ensure that consumers see the new signals. But the cable industry denies having the channel capacity to carry these signals—a claim the broadcasters dispute.
It's Kennard's belief, however, that the broadcast industry has no choice but to accept the new technology. Americans have awakened to the benefits of digital TV, the Internet, and all the features they offer. According to Kennard, "Delay is not an option." He believes that the changes involved with carrying digital signals leave only two questions unanswered: "How fast will they happen?" and "Who will be the Bill Paleys of the 21st century?"
Threatened by the cable industry and the Internet, broadcasters must devise a plan to become viable, profitable platforms in the 21st century. As part of this scheme, analog and digital, both "must carries" of the coming age, would be combined. "It is a marriage waiting to happen," predicts Kennard.
Furthermore, Kennard stated that broadcasters shouldn't lose sight of the inherent advantages they possess. One is that broadcasting is ubiquitous. The other is that it can bring information closer to the ultimate customer—transmitting content and eliminating delay.
Low-Power FM Won't Interfere
Turning to the issue of low-power, noncommercial FM radio intended for schools and religious groups, Kennard admonished his audience for opposing its inception. The rejoinder that the new service would create interference is, in his opinion, simply a canard. Stating, "I have shut down more pirates than any previous commissioner," he told the group that full power and low power can work together in harmony.
As for the Internet, he praised all who have played a part in its astronomical growth. He also pointed out that its rise has been seamless and without government intervention, yet it has developed remarkably well.
In closing, Kennard assured his broadcaster audience that "Digital technology is the greatest opportunity of our age."