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Time for an 'All of the Above' Spectrum Strategy

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The U.S. is the world leader in deployment of 4G wireless networks. From President Obama to his Federal Communications Commission Chairman, national leaders are touting the central role of this next-generation infrastructure to our economy.

Over the past four years, direct U.S. employment by wireless carriers has grown almost 6 percent annually. Overall wireless innovation supports nearly 3.8 million American jobs and contributes nearly $200 billion to the U.S. GDP. And the next wave of innovative networks alone could add $151 billion to our GDP over the next four years and create 770,000 U.S. jobs.

Consumers rely on mobile communications in every aspect of their lives. There are now more mobile subscriptions than people in the U.S. One in five Americans now use a handheld device to access the Internet on a daily basis and mobile data traffic is expected to grow 100-fold over the next 10 years.

Only a small portion of spectrum is currently allocated to the wireless web. Yet the FCC predicts that demand for wireless connectivity could surpass existing capacity as early as next year, with massive deficits soon to follow, resulting in unreliable service and higher connectivity costs.

The Administration has proposed efforts to address the spectrum shortage, but many will take substantial time to implement. So it is critical that the government also take immediate steps, with tools readily available today, to provide relief to consumers and our economy in the short-run.

Simply put, the U.S. needs an 'all of the above' strategy to meet our nation's growing appetite for mobile Internet services. And, here are several concrete steps that our leaders can make this year to help avert 'comm-mageddon.'

  • Act on a petition already before the FCC to better utilize lower 700 MHz A Block spectrum for mobile Internet by relocating digital TV stations to reduce interference.
  • Act expeditiously on pending license transactions, bringing certainty to planning processes, and facilitating a robust secondary market where spectrum moves to its most valued use.
  • Streamline the federal process for siting communications towers by creating a standardized process with concrete timelines and a master agreement used by all federal agencies.
  • Resolve pending petitions on WCS spectrum operating rules, enabling the development of standards and equipment to facilitate the use of 20 MHz of spectrum for mobile broadband.
  • Allow flexible terrestrial use of 2 GHz band of Mobile Satellite Service spectrum to enable its more robust utilization.
  • Press continued, timely FCC and NTIA collaboration to resolve technical issues associated with the relocation and/or sharing of the 1675-1710 MHz and 1755-1850 MHz bands, to support spectrum efficiency while preserving key government functions.
  • Initiate FCC rulemakings to set voluntary broadcast spectrum incentive auctions within two years, as required by the 2012 Spectrum Act.
  • Identify at least 15 MHz of contiguous spectrum for auction by 2015 (as required by the Spectrum Act) to provide additional viable spectrum for mobile services.
  • Start a rulemaking aimed at permitting use of small cells in the 3.5 GHz band, which would provide carriers with an additional tool to increase the density of network deployment and thereby supply more wireless capacity to consumers.
  • Begin proceedings to allow use of certain unlicensed devices in the 5350-5470 MHz band.
  • Stay on target with key timeframes to implement the FirstNet public safety network, which provides the nation with groundbreaking communications capability for our first responders.
  • The White House should proceed with its plans for a White House-led "Spectrum Management Team" to work with NTIA, FCC and other federal agencies to implement the President's directives to make 500 MHz of spectrum available for wireless broadband.

It will take a wide array of coordinated efforts to come anywhere near the President's ambitious and important goal of making 500 additional MHz of spectrum available to expand the mobile Internet. Timely, collaborative action is urgently needed, alongside long-term efforts. Our mobile nation can't afford a 'none of the above' strategy if we are to maintain our global mobile leadership and grow our innovation economy. Our leaders must take bold and specific steps now to unleash the full potential of our mobile future.

Jonathan Spalter, chairman of Mobile Future, has been founding CEO of leading technology, media, and research companies, including Public Insight, Snocap, and Atmedica Worldwide. He served in the Clinton Administration as a Director on the National Security Council.

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