Avoiding the looming spectrum crisis in 2012

Those of us who develop apps have been waiting for the FCC to address the reality that wireless providers are running out of spectrum, since apps rely on the underlying wireless infrastructure that depends on these airwaves. Because spectrum is controlled by the government, the FCC must take the lead in solving this problem. Unfortunately, some recent actions by the FCC have actually made it more difficult for the private sector to offer solutions to the spectrum shortage. That said, the FCC recently took one step in the right direction by approving AT&T’s purchase of spectrum from Qualcomm, which was otherwise sitting dormant. By allowing those that provide the wireless networks to acquire and put to use the very spectrum upon which our country’s wireless networks rely, the FCC is taking a step toward securing the digital future to which we are headed.

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The current reality is that with increasing demand for mobile services, the spectrum challenge is only becoming more serious as providers reach capacity. As I previously stated, “Video absolutely crushes wireless networks.” And as people want to use their mobile devices for an ever-increasing number of practical applications, not just for entertainment but also for business-focused apps, the nation needs more bandwidth to address this demand.

We can’t take full advantage of the potential of wireless broadband – in everything from business to telemedicine to education – if connections and service aren’t reliable. A dropped call about groceries is one thing, a video conference with a customer or board of directors is something else. The next wave of medical and business apps will require more spectrum and better use of the spectrum we have now.

U.S. app developers have already responded to the growth in smartphones and tablets.  Mobile apps are now a $7 billion industry projected to rise to $50 billion by 2015. Our app makers are the global leaders in this industry – but that can change quickly. The U.S. is nearing full capacity on its wireless networks much faster than in other countries. However, our trading partners are updating their communications infrastructure while we sit on our hands, tied up in partisan politics. When other countries are able to provide a better wireless environment, their developers will make more advanced apps, taking a greater share of the global market while the U.S. will be left to rue what could have been.

As policymakers in Washington continue to delay critical legislation that will unleash much needed spectrum,  we must look to other avenues to solve our spectrum problems, such as secondary market transactions like the proposed AT&T-T-Mobile merger. Unfortunately, the FCC has taken an active role in opposition to such proposed solutions, but that’s not good enough. When tasked with providing the resources necessary for new technologies to connect doctors with patients, parents with children, and businesses to consumers, the FCC must provide answers. “No” is not going to get it done.
Something to think about if your call or download gets dropped today.

Morgan Reed is the Executive Director of the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT).