William E. Kennard
Federal Communications Commission
35th Annual NATPE Conference
New Orleans, LA
January 19, 1998
(As Prepared for Delivery)
Thank you, Brian, for that kind introduction.
Well, it isn't even dinnertime. But I'll bet there isn't a person in this room who hasn't
already seen a clip of Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr., in front of the Lincoln Memorial, delivering the
speech that made him famous -- the speech that reminds us, so vividly, why, as a Nation, we
celebrate his life on this day.
Seeing those clips reminds us that television was there during the March on Washington.
Without television that event might very well have been a footnote in history -- even in
the history of civil rights.
But by late afternoon that day in 1963, ABC and NBC had cut away from the soap operas
to join CBS in full live coverage. Up atop the Washington Monument, a CBS camera showed
the country the masses of people lining the reflecting pool. Seeing and hearing King for the first
time were millions of Americans, black and white, from New York to California.
One of them was President Kennedy. He had never heard King speak. But sitting in the
White House, he watched the whole speech on television. At one point he leaned over and told
one of his aides, "He's damn good."
Which, of course, he was.
And on this day, when we remember Martin Luther King's accomplishments, we should
also remember how your industry helped him to change the world.
I certainly remember how it changed my world.
Because to look back at TV in the days when I was a kid is to see how far we've come as
a Nation, and the role that television has played in changing the Nation.
I remember as a kid growing up in the 1960s, a black face appearing on television was an
event in my household. People would literally run out of bedrooms to the living room to see
those first, fleeting images of black people on television. Usually we arrived too late, because
the images were almost always just passing ones. But they had an impact. I remember once
when the Bank of America had a black teller in one of its commercials, my mother was so
excited that she changed the family's bank account.
Then there was "I Spy." Not a great show. But it had a great black co-star: Bill Cosby.
This was big news in the black community in the 1960's when Bill Cosby became a pioneering
presence on prime time TV. And 25 years later, he continued to pioneer the reflection of black
Americans on television with The Cosby Show.
And then there was the news. Because of TV, my family could see events in
Birmingham, Little Rock, Selma. And, 30 years ago, we gathered in my grandma's house --
because she had a color TV - - and watched Martin Luther King's funeral.
I became a news junkie as a teenager; awed by the power of communications to change
It was the 70s. And like many college kids who watched the Watergate Hearings, I
wanted to be a tough investigative journalist. I went to Stanford University and majored in
Communications, but most of my time was spent at the student radio station. Every college with
a radio station has a group of students who spend more time at the radio station than in the
library. I was one of them. And looking back, it was the joy of my college years. I had a hard-hitting public affairs show. At the time I believed that it would prepare me for a stint my 60
When the one of the network affiliates in San Francisco gave me a summer internship, I
figured that I was on my way. Toward the end of the summer, I told the General Manager that I
wanted him to hire me to be the station's the investigative reporter. I even pitched him on my
He was very kind. He didn't laugh. He said, "Well, San Francisco is a pretty big market.
You gotta start in Paducah or someplace. Besides, you look too young to be an investigative
reporter. Why don't you go to law school. Then come back and we'll talk."
So I went to law school and wound up as Chairman of the FCC. And some people say I
look too young to have this job.
But the point is, that television has had a transforming effect on all of our lives, and on
the life of our Nation. Television made it possible for an unknown 29-year-old minister in
Montgomery, Alabama named Martin Luther King, Jr. to lead a movement that changed the
And, of course, television will continue to have a transforming effect, and this will be
even more true as you convert to digital.
When the history of communication in this decade is written, it will be a story of how
communications technologies -- all technologies -- telephones, cable TV, cellular and
broadcasting -- converted to digital technology. This is truly a transforming event of our times.
And people will exhibit all of the reactions which typically accompany transforming
events: confusion, optimism, pessimism, denial, fear. And some people in your industry will
embrace this change. And they will be the pioneers.
The point to remember here is that you are not alone. Every communications technology
is undergoing this transition. Different from yours in many ways, to be sure. But all equally
imperative. Because digital technology allows us to do things unimaginable a few years back.
Consumers are waking up to that fact. Digital TV offers versatility and capacity that will
transform your medium. This is many magnitudes more significant than the transition from
black and white to color, because it has the power to much more fundamentally change what you
can offer to your audience.
Your six megahertz channel is a stream of 20 million bits per second. That's enough
capacity to deliver the product that you currently provide your audience in high definition. Or
you could provide your current product in standard definition, plus a movie, a Spanish language
program, a news documentary, a live sporting event, a dozen audio channels, and the Wall Street
And once your audience sees the benefits, they will never want to go back. Just like the
transition from black and white to color. Consumers never want to go back.
This conversion to digital will revolutionize and revitalize television. Embrace it.
Of course, there is lots of uncertainty and many unanswered questions. How quickly will
consumers embrace digital TV? And how much will the sets and converters cost? What will the
competition do? And who is going to produce programming in high definition, anyway? How
quickly will cable companies convert?
I don't have definitive answers to any of these questions. No one does yet. And
ultimately, the marketplace, not regulators, will supply answers to these questions. But I am very
confident that we are in the midst of a transforming event, and the best reaction is to embrace it.
And I do think that this is happening.
One recent Harris study reports an increasingly upbeat industry attitude about the pace of
the build-out. (By the way, that's Harris the pollster, not Harris the equipment manufacturer.)
The Harris study reports that nearly all U.S. TV stations expect to convert to digital by the end of
2002, and that the number of broadcast executives who believe conversion is affordable is up
significantly. This was very evident at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas last week.
By all accounts, DTV will be on the air and in homes in the top markets by the end of the
year. TV manufacturers plan to put the first HDTV sets on sale starting in August or September,
and the first broadcast stations plan to begin their DTV broadcasts at the start of the fall season.
The November status reports contained very good news from those broadcasters who
volunteered to be the first to convert to DTV: they expect to meet their rapid build-out
commitments. This is terrific news, and I want to praise those broadcasters who are embracing
this transition -- the pioneers who are at the forefront of the DTV revolution. I thank them for
their vision and hard work.
You can't expect the FCC to tell you when the marketplace will fully accept digital
television. But you can and should expect the FCC to resolve the fundamental regulatory issues
necessary to make this transition go smoothly. The FCC has a responsibility to set forth a clear
framework so that at least you can eliminate regulatory uncertainty from your business plans.
First and foremost, we must finalize the DTV Allotment Table.
The Commission is working hard to do that and to create the best possible overall DTV
allotment plan. We plan to resolve the allotment issues, along with all the other issues that were
raised on reconsideration, at our Commission meeting on January 29. That's just ten days from
There are other key pieces of unfinished DTV business.
We will have to decide how to apply must carry to the digital environment. And to do
that, we need to answer the related questions of compatibility of transmission standards and
timing -- tremendously important issues to broadcasters and cable operators.
Fees for ancillary services. The Commission proposed rules on this in December, and
we're moving forward so that you will have the flexibility to use the spectrum in a variety of
ways. We need to adopt clear and simple ground rules that will provide a common-sense
framework so that the industry can plan and invest.
And we need to make sure that the licensing process works for DTV. Before I came to
the FCC, I spent a dozen years representing broadcasters before the agency. So I know the
frustration when you can't get quick action on your application, or when the filing requirements
seem more burdensome than necessary. I have horror stories I can tell on this. I worked on one
licensing application for ten years. I have begun an aggressive effort at the FCC to streamline
the application process.
Part of this effort is an ambitious project to convert to electronic filing. Electronic filing
of applications will make it easier for you to interact with the Commission and your applications
will get granted faster.
And I'm not just making promises here. Under Roy Stewart's leadership, the Mass Media
Bureau granted the first DTV construction permit on September 3, 1997
. We've introduced a
simple checklist to keep processing times to an absolute minimum, so that you get the quickest
action possible. So far, nine grants have been made -- including one in the New York City
market --- all two or three days after we received them in the office. The FCC staff is gearing up
to turn these applications around as quickly as possible.
Then there is the critical issue of tower-siting.
I have talked to people on both sides of this issue. On one side, broadcasters
build towers, and build them quickly, if they are going to roll out DTV quickly. On the other,
local governments argue -- legitimately -- that they need to protect their communities, as they
have always done, by deciding where these new towers will be built.
The common-sense approach is to figure out a way to create a win/win situation. And the
only way for that to happen is for the industry to work with local government. You need to
reach out to local government. Work with them. And understand that I believe that federal
preemption of local government should be considered only as a last resort.
I'm confident that the broadcast industry and the local governments can develop strategies
to achieve workable solutions. And I want to do everything to bring both sides together. One
promising suggestion was proposed by the FCC's Local and State Government Advisory
Committee. The Advisory Committee suggested that the Commission set up a "strike force" of
Commission staffers to help local governments work through technical questions that they might
have about what broadcasters actually need in terms of height, location, power requirements, and
So far, I've talked a lot about what we can do at the FCC to speed this transition to digital
television. I want to talk for a moment about what you must do to make sure that our country
realizes the full benefits of this wonderful technology.
Perhaps the greatest promise of digital television is its potential to allow you to expand
on your service to the public. I know that broadcasting has a long tradition of public service. I
grew up as a lawyer representing broadcasters. I know that most of you take your public interest
obligations seriously. I doubt that the networks gave much thought to ratings when they covered
Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech, or the Watergate hearings or the Persian Gulf War. And I
know that you are doing much to serve your communities every day, and in many ways. You
should be proud of this tradition of service.
In fact, I believe that is the very reason Congress decided that the American people
should make such a huge investment in your industry by giving you the spectrum you need to
broadcast digital television. And this is a huge investment. It has made broadcasters the envy of
other industries starved for more bandwidth.
I believe that you have an obligation to the public to make this new investment work for
them. And so does the FCC. At the FCC, we have an obligation to make sure that as broadcast
technology changes in fundamental ways, our definition of the public interest keeps pace.
That is why the Commission committed in April of last year to begin a proceeding on the
public interest obligations of broadcasters in the digital age. I look forward to beginning that
I want to have a real conversation on this topic. This rulemaking shouldn't be something
the Commission does to the broadcast industry. We need to work together. But at the end of the
day, we must develop a framework to ensure that the public interest remains vibrant and
meaningful in the digital age. Broadcasters have been given new ways to expand into the digital
age, so it is only fair to expect that they provide new ways of serving the public interest. I
believe that this industry, consistent with its best traditions, can work with the FCC to develop
I am interested in what members of the President's Advisory Committee on Digital
Television are thinking as they grapple with these questions. I hope that their process will yield
useful suggestions for the FCC.
And I hope that many others join in this dialogue. I want us to determine how digital
television will create new opportunities for the country. . . for improving the political dialogue in
our country . . . for improving opportunities for unserved communities to have access to
programming that serves their unique needs.... and for ensuring that this industry reaches out and
provides employment opportunity for men and women of all colors. I hope we can work
together on this.
It has been over thirty-five years since your cameras captured those first compelling
images of civil rights protesters putting their lives on the line . . . forcing America to confront
racial inequality. I hope we can work together to make good on their sacrifices.
You know, after Dr. King finished his speech, and the march was over, he came to the
White House. President Kennedy shook his hand and said, "Dr. King, I have a dream." He had
watched the speech on television.
Thanks to television, the events of that day transfixed and transformed the Nation. And
in the years since, television has done this many times. And those events become a part of our
collective consciousness. The first man on the moon. ABC's broadcast of Roots. Coverage of
the Vietnam War. The funeral of Princess Diana.
In fact, we saw an example last night on ABC. Disney took the story of Ruby Bridges,
the girl who integrated a school in this very city, 37 years ago, and made a movie that poignantly
captured the very best and worst of the American character.
Well, of course now, thirty-seven years later, we know that some dreams -- not perfectly,
not overnight -- can come true.
In the past, you have opened up the world to viewers, by allowing them to go places and
see things they would never have seen on their own. I'm confident that while the nature of your
business will change in unforeseeable ways, you will continue to distinguish yourselves in the
way that you serve the public.
You're poised at the brink of a tremendous opportunity.
You will embrace it and you will grow. You'll create opportunities.
Just as you created opportunities for me, you'll create opportunities for others. And just
as you keep in our memories the image of the man we celebrate today . . . you will help create
the Martin Luther Kings of the next generation -- those who have dreams our Nation has yet to