In a piece on technology and the economy for The American, Bret Swanson of Entropy Economics (he’s also an IIA Broadband Ambassador) highlights a startling fact that speaks directly to America’s current spectrum crunch:
Broadband, wireless, and data centers are the platform on which our entire digital—and increasingly non-digital—economy are built. U.S. broadband is healthy—we generate more data traffic per user than any nation but South Korea. And yet the innovation cycle craves ever more bandwidth.
However, the government owns 61 percent of the best airwaves, while mobile providers own just 10 percent. In February, Congress finally approved auctions of some underused spectrum and warned the Federal Communications Commission not to micromanage who can bid on spectrum, how much a bidder can buy, and what business models buyers can pursue. Economists Robert Shapiro and Kevin Hassett estimate that advances in mobile Internet technologies boosted U.S. employment by 400,000 per year between 2007 and 2011. In the best circumstances, auctions take years, so further FCC spectrum mischief could slow one of America’s fastest-growing industries.
Recent efforts by Congress and the FCC to free up more spectrum for mobile broadband are certainly encouraging. But the massive gulf between the amount of spectrum the government owns vs. the wireless industry clearly shows the government is not moving at the speed of technology — and that’s a recipe for disaster.
Calls for humbler government are as old as the republic. In this era of frenzied media coverage and hyperpartisan dialogue, few would apply the humble label to anything related to the federal government. It’s time for at least one agency to heed the call.
As it writes rules for the availability of additional spectrum through incentive auctions, the Federal Communications Commission should apply a light touch — a truly humble approach — to the wireless sector, which is a major contributor to our national economic recovery.
So begins an op-ed from our Honorary Chairman, former Congressman Rick Boucher, in today’s Roll Call. Check out the full op-ed on their site.
The FCC has released its annual “Wireless Competition” report, which includes data up to 2009, and just like last year’s report the commission has hedged on whether America’s wireless industry remains competitive. As Amy Schatz of the Wall Street Journal reports:
The FCC stayed neutral on whether the industry is competitive. Before 2010, the FCC found that the wireless phone market was “effectively competitive” for several years.
The agency said that it found that “the mobile wireless ecosystem is sufficiently complex and multi-faceted that it would not be meaningful to try to make a single, all inclusive finding regarding effective competition that adequately encompasses the level of competition in the various interrelated segments, types of services, and vast geographic areas of the mobile wireless industry.”
Schatz also quotes a statement from Verizon, who felt the FCC “took a too narrow view of competition”:
“Our competitors aren’t just other wireless-network providers, as this report seems to indicate. Today wireless competition comes from cable companies; Wi-Fi and satellite service providers; handset, tablet and laptop manufacturers; operating system and application designers, and many others,” Verizon said.
The report’s findings also prompted a response from CTIA President and CEO Steve Largent:
Even though I haven’t had a chance to read the entire FCC’s 15th Annual Mobile Wireless Competition Report that was released late this afternoon, from a cursory review, it appears it reflects the tremendous innovation and investment that occurred in the wireless ecosystem in 2009. While CTIA again wishes they would have concluded effective competition existed in 2009, consumers clearly enjoyed more advanced handsets, an ever-expanding range of services and applications and more robust networks, even as the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that prices decreased. Additionally, the mobile ecosystem expanded into other areas including mHealth, mobile education, intelligent transportation and smart grids. The report showed a multitude of facts and figures that proved the wireless ecosystem continues to work for America and Americans.
The full report (PDF) is available on the FCC website.
Earlier this week, the National Association of Broadcasters released a study (PDF) declaring America’s spectrum crisis is a myth, prompting the wireless industry to quickly call foul on the findings.
Now, as The Hill‘s Sara Jerome reports, the FCC has also responded, stating America “simply can’t afford to study [the issue] to death while the rest of the world passes us by.”
In the ongoing war of words between broadcasters and the wireless industry over spectrum allocation (quick recap: wireless industry says they need more spectrum to keep up with demand for mobile broadband; broadcasters say they don’t have much spectrum to share and that wireless industry is hoarding unused airwaves), FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has come down on the side of wireless providers. Reports Joan Engebretson from Connected Planet:
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski took the opportunity to dispute broadcasters’ claims at a Mobile Future Forum event last week.
“Multiple expert sources expect that by 2014, demand for mobile broadband, and the spectrum to fuel it, will be 35 times the levels it was in 2009,” said Genachowski. “This compares to spectrum coming on line for mobile broadband that represents less than a three times increase in capacity. The looming spectrum shortage is real—and it is the alleged hoarding that is illusory.”