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Ex-senator Gordon Smith now represents broadcasters as voice for free, local TV

Former U.S. senator Gordon Smith is now the president and chief executive of the National Association of Broadcasters.
Former U.S. senator Gordon Smith is now the president and chief executive of the National Association of Broadcasters. (Juana Arias For The Washington Post)

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"You'd think mobile broadband could cure cancer, too," Smith said with sarcasm.

Why wireless connections instead of more robust and faster Internet lines into homes and businesses? And how can consumers be sure airwaves won't go to big carriers, who continually increase costs for consumers? AT&T and Verizon Wireless, the nation's biggest mobile network operators, bought the most airwaves in the government's last auction. They are now positioned to lead as tablets and new smartphones hit 4G networks.

The real problem, public interest groups say, is getting people to use the Internet when prices for service continue to climb.

The resistance from broadcasters adds to other hurdles for wireless broadband plans, observers say. The government's plan is complicated and calls for fire, police and paramedics to build out a national interoperable network. Observers question how public safety officials can pull that off. And even if Obama gets legislation he needs to create voluntary "incentive auctions," carriers would not be able to bid on airwaves until next year at the earliest, experts say.

In the government's fast-forward push to bolster wireless networks, Smith's biggest goal is to get lawmakers to slow down.

"Let's consider all the facts first," he said. "We need an inventory of what other spectrum is available. We need to really see if there is a spectrum crisis."

And in Washington, sometimes the most effective weapon is the pause button.


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