The future of wireless is uncertain. Will we move toward ever-faster speeds, better and more powerful apps, and increased job growth for our economy? Or, will wireless innovation and development stagnate due to increasingly crowded airwaves and a government that dithers rather than acts to solve the problem?
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation held an event on Capitol Hill last week, where presenters provided a stark choice for the United States. Panelists from the wireless sector, Congressional staff, the Administration and the app development community discussed a report issued recently by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).
The report proposed that “sharing” federal spectrum – rather than clearing it, allocating and auctioning it for commercial consumer use, as has been done for well over a decade – should become the “norm.” At first this sounds good. After all, didn’t your parents always tell you to share? However, there’s a real danger in this approach. For many reason, spectrum sharing will slow the process of getting spectrum into the hands of consumers and businesses.
It hasn’t been “shared spectrum” that has given us the tremendous growth and innovation in the wireless ecosystem. Private investment not “sharing” has, for example, created an apps economy that didn’t even exist until 5 years ago. It now employs over 500,000 workers. The investment of today’s wireless carriers, who could count on spectrum exclusive licensing, has revolutionized our mobile economy. It’s been regulatory and business certainty that has allowed AT&T and Verizon to rank #1 and #2 in American investment.
Although spectrum sharing could potentially be one of many options for carriers down the road, the report noted that the scope and scale of the technology for bringing spectrum sharing to practical fruition was decades away. We can’t wait.
In 2010, President Obama promised that the government would make 500 megahertz of spectrum available for commercial consumer use -- spectrum that network operators will put to work to provide the highest speed access to the wireless broadband Internet, everything from streaming videos to new medical applications to career and educational opportunities.
The PCAST report, however, sent a depressing message to investors, to the private sector and to American consumers: we know you need spectrum, but you have to do it “our” way. You have to share spectrum with the federal government, with the government deciding when you get to use spectrum, and when you can’t. Oh, and spectrum sharing doesn’t work yet. Talk about uncertainty.
Rather than the untested, speculative technologies of the PCAST report, we need the certainty of a method of obtaining spectrum that works. Part of what has proven to work is quick approval of secondary market transactions that allow carriers to purchase spectrum in the free market and put it to use now for consumers.
In addition, we need the Administration to follow through on the proven model of clearing, allocating and auctioning spectrum and then act on its promise of 500 MHz of clearly useable, exclusively licensed spectrum for commercial consumer use now.
Let’s use the tools we have to get the job done so hundreds of millions of Americans can benefit more fully from the wireless revolution. This revolution will generate millions of new jobs in all areas of the economy.
A President running for reelection should want to focus on jobs and economic growth – shouldn’t he?
Karen Kerrigan is President and CEO, SBE Council