Consumers and first responders demand successful spectrum auctions

The purpose of the hearing is to assess the pace of progress by the Federal Communications Commission in its Congressionally mandated effort to design and implement the first-ever “incentive” auctions to free-up underutilized broadcast spectrum for use by mobile consumers.   These auctions are a critical part of the urgent national strategy set forth by President Obama to make sure Americans will have a sustainable pipeline of broadband spectrum to fuel their mobile devices, and our nation’s innovation economy. 

Important steps are being taken by the FCC to draw-up the blueprints for these auctions since this historic legislation was passed last year. But with the clock ticking loudly, still much more work needs to be done to ensure these complicated auctions will be implemented by the target deadline of next year. 

Equally, it is critical the FCC ensures the auctions are designed as simply, openly, and inclusively as possible.   And for that, all potential auction participants – as well as the American people -- must have confidence and trust that the Commission will not put its thumb on the scale in favor of one competitor or another, nor to support one market outcome or another.  

To put it bluntly, Congress’s interest, and the clear statutory mandate it has given the FCC, is to design effective and successful spectrum auctions – not to use the auctions to design its own vision for what the American wireless marketplace should look like.   

The stakes are simply too high for any other possibility. 

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Among many other things, successful incentive auctions will generate funds that will be needed  to finance FirstNet, the long-awaited public safety network Congress made a top priority.  This public safety network has been discussed for years on Capitol Hill, and first responders have demanded this tool to protect citizens during a natural disaster or other public emergency.  As Vice President Joe Biden noted last year, FirstNet “fulfill[s] a promise made to first responders after 9/11 that they would have the technology they need to stay safe and do their jobs.”

Leaders in Washington are demanding we get the incentive auction details right to make FirstNet a reality. Just last week, Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) and seven of his House colleagues sent a letter to Acting FCC Chair Mignon Clyburn calling for an open and competitive incentive auction framework that enables all carriers to freely bid on all available spectrum that is offered by broadcasters for auction.

At a time when cash-strapped public safety agencies are looking to technology and innovation to help respond rapidly and seamlessly in today’s digital era – from intense weather events to other public safety threats – a fully capable FirstNet is key. An inclusive approach that aims to maximize spectrum revenue also will make the auctions more enticing to broadcasters, who must volunteer to put their wireless holdings up for bidding.

Freeing-up spectrum to expand the mobile Internet is essential to meet exploding U.S. demand for data transmitted over wireless networks. AT&T reported recently that, in the past six years alone, mobile data traffic has increased more than 30,000 percent. That’s no typo – AT&T networks now carry 300 times as much data today as they did in 2007. With more wireless subscriptions in America than people, and private sector investments bringing 4G LTE to more markets, more spectrum is needed to keep pace with U.S. consumers and businesses.

American consumers and innovators are powering a mobile revolution.  Smart choices in Washington can amplify its growth. The evidence of this transformative change is everywhere: from app developers starting businesses in communities across the nation, to mobile devices that deliver services to minority communities, to machines that communicate to make nearly everything “smart.”

Wireless connectivity will drive America’s economic leadership in the 21st century. But this connectivity will meet consumer demand only if we get the details right by executing an inclusive incentive auction that makes both FirstNet and continued, ubiquitous mobile connectivity a reality. With greater spectrum capacity, wireless companies will build on the $30 billion they invested in 2012, delivering stronger and faster networks and connectivity that allow us all to reap the benefits of the next chapter of our mobile future.

Spalter, chairman of Mobile Future (www.mobilefuture.org), 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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