The broadcasting industry's top lobbyist said the Federal Communications Commission needs to work closer with the industry rather than trying to undermine it through regulatory measures that favor would-be competitors.
"Over the past five years, there has been an increasingly singular focus by the federal government on broadband," said National Assn. of Broadcasters President and Chief Executive Gordon Smith in a Monday speech at the association's annual convention in Las Vegas. Smith added that meanwhile the agency continues to "regulate broadcasters as if the world is stuck in the 1970s."
Smith's remarks come one week after the FCC issued new rules that would make it very difficult for two competing local TV stations to form partnerships on advertising sales. The FCC also is bringing an end to the common practice in which two stations with separate ownership would team up to negotiate distribution deals with cable and satellite operators.
Those moves, along with the FCC's desire to reclaim broadcast spectrum to auction off to wireless companies, has created tension between the regulatory agency and the television industry. While broadcasters would get a piece of the proceeds from such auctions, many in the industry are reluctant to participate.
Said Smith: "On the one hand, government can treat us as if we are dinosaurs and does what it can to encourage TV stations to go out of business. On the other hand, the FCC says we are so important and powerful that two TV stations can't share advertising in the same market, while it's OK for multiple cable, satellite and telecommunications operators to do so."
That new FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is a former head of both the cable and wireless industry lobbying groups also has many broadcasters concerned that they are second-class citizens in his eyes.
Univision Chairman Haim Saban cracked that the FCC stands for "Friendly Cable Commission," during an interview at the convention.
The FCC, Smith said, needs a "national broadcast plan" along with its National Broadband Plan.
"Why is there no focus to foster innovation and investment in broadcasting to ensure our business continues to be a world leader alongside our broadband industries," Smith asked.
Such a plan is necessary, Smith said, because when it comes to providing video, broadband "buffers and crawls."
If the public wants access to large, live events, "broadcasting must be part of the solution," Smith said.
Smith said he understands the FCC's goal to free spectrum but fears broadcasters will be hurt if it is not handled properly.
"At the moment, it is, at best, an open question whether the FCC has balanced those aims," Smith said.
Smith ended his remarks by suggesting the government stay out of the often contentious negotiations between broadcasters and pay-TV distributors over so-called retransmission consent fees. Last summer, Time Warner Cable subscribers lost access to CBS content because of such a dispute.
"Government intervention would only tip the scales in favor of pay-TV providers, whose end game is to drive free TV out of business and capitalize on new advertising dollars," Smith said.
Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.