Upgrading the Virtual Information Superhighway

Vince Jesaitis photo

It is difficult to point to a specific item that has changed our daily lives more during the past decade than the smart phone.  Having instant access to news, information, communications, and entertainment is one of the high-tech industry’s real game-changers.  Mobile technology has brought not just increased productivity, but also new businesses and jobs to the U.S. economy.  But as an increasing number of Americans use these devices and services, the invisible highways that all this information travel on are getting crowded, ultimately threatening the tremendous investment and innovation we have seen to date and could see tomorrow in the mobile marketplace.

The answer?  Expand those invisible highways by making more spectrum available for mobile broadband.

In 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a roadmap for our digital future in the National Broadband Plan.  Among other things, the Plan recognized that “[d]ata traffic on AT&T’s mobile network…is up 5,000 percent over the past three years, a compound annual growth rate of 268 percent.”  The Plan also warned that if the government does not make more spectrum available for mobile broadband promptly, “scarcity of mobile broadband could mean higher prices, poor service quality, an inability for the U.S. to compete internationally, depressed demand and, ultimately, a drag on innovation.”

It’s now 2012 and, to no one’s surprise given the plethora of smart phones and tablets on the market, mobile data traffic is becoming the virtual equivalent of rush hour on a California freeway.  Last year, mobile data traffic tripled, and forecasts predict that between 2011 and 2016 traffic will increase 16 times.

Fortunately, lawmakers have taken a first important step toward upgrading our digital highways by passing legislation to grant the FCC authority to conduct voluntary incentive auctions.  The FCC is also taking steps to allow flexibility in spectrum licenses that will result in additional spectrum currently used for other services to be used for mobile broadband, and last week ITI filed comments encouraging the FCC to move forward in this area.  One of the biggest pieces in this puzzle, however, will be to move federal government users off the vast swaths of spectrum they currently hold without jeopardizing the services critical to our nation’s safety and security.

Putting all these pieces together will go a long way in helping address our nation’s spectrum needs, resulting in revenue for the U.S. government, continued investments in next generation networks and technologies, job creation, device and application innovations, and ultimately satisfied consumers.  ITI has long believed making spectrum available for mobile broadband is a win-win-win.  Let’s build on the progress, and move forward with incentive auctions, license flexibility, and freeing up government spectrum expeditiously to fully realize these benefits and serve the needs of the American people.  

Vince Jesaitis is a Director of Government Relations for the Information Technology Industry Council.

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