Wireless communications must be improved in America

Are you fed up with waiting for “bars” on your cellphone? Or waiting for a video to download even when you have a strong signal? Are you impatient with slow downloads of data? Tired of dropped calls? Exasperated by “no service available” messages?

Well, help could be on the way.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Congress can fix these problems and improve wireless communications in other ways simply by making more spectrum available to wireless providers.

What is spectrum? Spectrum is the wireless airwaves or radio frequencies that carry wireless communications through the air to your devices (cellphone, Internet, GPS).

ADVERTISEMENT
Spectrum is the lifeblood of the modern wireless communications and technology industries. And as more and more consumers buy smartphones, there is an increasing need more spectrum to support these data-heavy devices. For reference, smartphones use 24 times the data than traditional cellphones, and tablets use about 122 times more data than traditional landline phones. With data-usage continuing to climb, the wireless industry needs more spectrum to meet this demand. The question is, where's it going to come from?

The FCC is the government agency that regulates and keeps track of who's using which slivers of spectrum. The agency grants companies licenses to use the spectrum. Much of the best spectrum for transmitting mobile signals has already been licensed to wireless carriers or is being used by TV broadcasters or government agencies, which hold the rights to these licenses. With much spectrum already spoken for, wireless carriers have sought to acquire more through FCC-run auctions that have generated billions of dollars in revenue for the government.

At a time of economic crisis in America when millions of unemployed Americans still need jobs and the government is drowning in a sea of red ink, Congress and the FCC should make every effort to boost one of the few thriving industries and, simultaneously, secure much-needed revenues for the treasury.

First, the FCC should require all wireless providers to “use it or lose it.” That is to say, any wireless providers who currently hold licenses but aren’t using them to provide service should be required to deploy that spectrum within a certain period of time or risk losing the license altogether.

Second, the FCC should encourage or provide incentives to spectrum holders, who may not be putting that resource to its best use, to sell those licenses back to the government. Such spectrum can be auctioned to the highest bidder willing to provide mobile broadband service. The auctions should be open to all qualified bidders without any artificial and unnecessary restrictions placed on who can bid.

Such an open and fair auction promises to generate much needed revenue for the U.S. Treasury and would constitute a huge jobs program at zero cost to the taxpayers. Wireless service providers would go to work to expand and improve its infrastructure; as a result, Americans would be the beneficiaries of the best communications service in the world.

If there was ever a bipartisan solution to an important national problem, this is it.

Therefore, I urge Congress, FCC commissioners and the White House to release spectrum to the marketplace ASAP.


Blakeman, former deputy assistant to former President George W. Bush and professor of Public Policy, Politics and International Affairs at Georgetown University.