The need for speed at 30,000 feet

Wi-Fi on airplanes is not a new thing. But because the bandwidth is shared among participating passengers, the service can be slow, spotty and exclude viewing video, which can be a shock to those who expect the same lightning-fast Internet they enjoy on the ground.  There are a couple of points here that are important to understand. First is the undeniable fact that we have a need for speed. We expect to access information instantly and are no longer content to wait for even a millisecond for a page to load. The second point is that we are moving towards a video-powered world. From YouTube to Vimeo, from SnapChat to Hulu, we want to watch rather than read. This has profound implications on the first point: it takes a lot more bandwidth to stream a video than it does to read an online article or send an email. 

This creates a perfect broadband storm, and one that shows no sign of slowing. So what’s so important about broadband deployment? Surely it has to have a greater impact than just speedy Internet on planes. The answer lies in our every-day reality. High-speed broadband is critical to sustaining economic growth. Just try to think of a business, app or service that doesn’t depend on it. From small business to corporate America, jobs and innovation are at the heart of our nation’s global competitiveness and broadband deployment is where it all begins. To further emphasize this point, President Obama has placed special significance on infrastructure deployment by providing incentives for private sector investment.

In order to meet surging consumer demand for data and video, the public sector and private sector must work together to build advanced broadband networks in order to increase capacity, including the crucial move towards nationwide all-fiber broadband networks. Both national and statewide elected officials need to keep a close watch on regulatory mandates to ensure unnecessary red tape doesn’t impede the ability for broadband providers to invest billions in upgrading our communications networks, thereby satisfying our ever-growing desire for bandwidth.

On a similar note, we must also ensure the availability of spectrum, the invisible airwaves that fuel the video and data on which our mobile phones depend on to function.  In 2014, the FCC is slated to make some big moves towards auctioning much-needed spectrum for telecom providers. In order to be successful, these auctions must allow all eligible bidders to participate and compete equally for the spectrum they need. When wireless providers compete, consumers win, which means enhanced high-speed access to data on our mobile devices.

So whether we’re in the air, on the ground, in the office or traveling across the country, our nation’s appetite for advanced wireless connectivity will only increase. To meet consumers’ expectations requires communication and commitment between national regulatory agencies, like the FCC, to state and local government officials, to the private sector companies that both provide and depend on Internet access.  

McCullough is executive director of Texans for Economic Progress, a statewide non-profit advocacy group driven by a core belief that greater access to technology is critical to job creation, innovation and prosperity for the State of Texas.

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