Your Favorite TV Shows: Could Government Policy Impact Them?

I have a confession to make – I’m hooked on “American Idol.” Not many people know that about me. But it’s hard to resist watching when my 42” HDTV is beaming the vibrant colors of Jennifer Lopez’s dresses and Steven Tyler’s fabulous highlighted locks into my living room. And what’s even better is that I don’t have to pay anything to get my shows – I use an antenna and get all my favorite programs for free.

Did you know that 98 of the top rated 100 shows are on broadcast television – not cable or satellite? They include shows such as my favorite “American Idol,” “Sunday Night Football” and “Dancing With the Stars.” Millions of viewers like me are loving their digital televisions and are buying HD sets for an even better viewing experience. And because of the digital television transition, viewers are getting free additional broadcast channels and can watch their shows on the go with mobile DTV. In my hometown of Washington, D.C, I watch channel 4.2 “Nonstop Washington,” a WRC sub-channel, which has a show called “Nonstop Foodies” that features local food, restaurants, chefs and cooking. Across the country, local stations are providing hyperlocal content where you can follow the weather in your town or the high school football game.

It’s definitely an exciting time for broadcast television. New technology and consumer habits are changing the face of free, local television – for the better. If you’re like me, you’re always looking for different choices and you want the flexibility to watch your shows wherever you are. Broadcast television is providing all of that.

But there are challenges in Washington, D.C., that could affect broadcast television’s ability to innovate. Wireless companies are claiming that they need more spectrum (or airwaves), including airwaves that broadcasters currently use to provide local TV services, to meet the demands of increasing high speed wireless Internet services. In response, the Federal Communications Commission released its National Broadband Plan last spring, which reflects claims of the wireless industry and others about a “looming spectrum crisis.”

The plan recommends ways to ensure all American have access to affordable broadband. But it also calls for the possible reallocation of some of the broadcast airwaves to benefit the wireless companies.

Even more harmful to broadcasters would be proposed new “spectrum fees” or taxes if they don’t voluntarily give up their airwaves. That would devastate many local TV stations and put an end to much of the innovating that’s happening right now. That means less choice for us – and possibly no more “Nonstop Foodies” for me. I worry about the impact on other popular shows like “American Idol” that all of us can currently watch for free.

The government’s plan calls for the FCC to reallocate as many as 20 TV channels nationwide currently used for free, local TV to wireless carriers.

Advancing the future of both free, local TV and wireless Internet services are not mutually exclusive goals. Any government effort to reallocate broadcasters’ spectrum (or airwaves) should be voluntary and shouldn’t deny viewers access to the many new services stations are offering for free.

As you can imagine, TV stations are not sitting idly by while their viewers are put in harms way.

Television and radio stations around the country took to the airwaves to educate viewers, listeners and policymakers that the future of TV is bright and shouldn’t be jeopardized. In January, stations dedicated nearly $10 million worth of inventory to this effort, airing 72,000 TV spots and 30,000 radio ads on this issue.

In addition, the National Association of Broadcasters launched The Future of TV website to help consumers understand this issue. The site received nearly 30,000 unique visitors in the first month of launching.

Before broadcasters are asked to involuntarily give up their airwaves and deny viewers of new channels and services, all the facts should be considered. There should be an inventory of what spectrum is available. And we need to find out if there is really a spectrum crisis as the wireless industry is claiming. Some press reports indicate that wireless companies and others may be sitting on more than $15 billion of spectrum they aren’t using.

There are 42 million Americans who rely exclusively on free over-the-air TV, and even if you pay for television service, you probably love your local news and broadcast network programs like I do. Any new spectrum policy should ensure that TV viewers don’t lose their local TV stations or the innovative free TV services on the horizon. If allowed to innovate, the possibilities for broadcast television’s future are incredible. And I don’t want to miss out because of the heavy hand of government.

If you feel the same, visit http://www.TheFutureofTV.org to learn more about this issue.