11/06/2012 05:36 pm ET

Why Public Policy is Critical to the Communications Revolution


In Silicon Valley, local issues and global issues are often closely linked. It's inevitable in a region where home grown high-tech is creating groundbreaking changes across the globe and supporting an entire region's economic growth and job market.

With the introduction of the iPhone right here in the Valley and the advent of mobile apps, the so-called "App Economy" is a huge local issue for Silicon Valley and the rest of California. It contributes $8.2 billion a year and supports 152,000 jobs in California, according to CTIA (The Wireless Association) and the Application Developers Alliance.

But, the most forceful demonstration of the global impact is the communications revolution taking place today. "Smart networks," such as wireless and wireline IP (Internet Protocol)-based networks, allow consumers to tap into super-fast Internet speeds so that they can better access video, voice and data services over the Internet. With communications technology playing a leading role in daily life, it's no surprise high-tech honchos are holding the Silicon Valley Wireless Symposium on November 2 at Marvell headquarters in Santa Clara to discuss public policy that ensures a sound path forward for 21st Century communications infrastructure.

Participants at the Symposium will include Valley-based public officials, academics and business leaders in the high-tech, education and health care worlds as well as the Valley's tech-savvy voice in the U.S. Congress, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA). Her inclusion in the symposium reflects the growing awareness in California's tech community that public policy can steer the future of the communications revolution that's changing the face of health care, education, and e-commerce.

Rep. Eshoo's commitment to tech-friendly policies was apparent in her remarks on October 9 to the State of the Net West conference sponsored by the Congressional Internet Congress Advisory Committee. The first issues the Palo Alto representative teed up were the need for the federal government to make more spectrum available to accommodate surging consumer demand for mobile and the necessity of smart public policies that support innovation and investment in communications infrastructure.

"We should turn our attention to what faster, more robust wireless broadband access means for innovation, job creation and investment here in Silicon Valley, and whether any barriers stand in the way of continued growth," Rep. Eshoo said at Net West. I'm sure there were tech leaders throughout the Valley who said "amen!" to that.

Federal and California governments have recognized the importance of a regulatory environment supporting tech growth and investment. By maintaining a light touch approach to regulation of the Internet and Internet-related services, they have encouraged the $25 billion a year in private investment the communications industry is pouring into the build out of advanced networks.

But the future state of the industry is still uncertain and there are the challenges facing the evolution of a wireless infrastructure. Public policy can encourage the freedom to innovate, share ideas, and compete, or it can establish a regulatory environment that creates unnecessary uncertainty for investors and innovators. There's no doubt that consumers are the drivers of the communications market -- rapidly moving on from traditional telephone lines to mobile and Internet-based broadband services and applications that offer voice, data, video and other advanced services. According to the FCC, voice over IP, or voice service over the Internet, grew 50 percent from 2008 to 2011. And according to CTIA, wireless subscribers grew from 311 million to 331.6 million from 2010 to 2011.

It is undeniable that the communication industry has brought transformational benefits to consumers, and the future of the industry is boundless. Policymakers, however, continue to have a pivotal role either as catalysts for investment and innovation or creating potential hurdles to new technology. Public policy is critical to Silicon Valley and there will be plenty of issues for discussion at the Silicon Valley Wireless Symposium.