Wireless broadband, spectrum policy to play a vital role in U.S. job creation

With last month’s bleak jobs report, the economy and job creation remain Americans’ top concerns. Rather than another failed tax, spend and borrow stimulus project, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is exploring ways to empower job creators, maximize American resources, save money and spur the economy. House Republicans are calling our efforts “A Plan for America’s Job Creators.” Wireless broadband and U.S. spectrum policy will play a vital role in these efforts. 

The subcommittee on Communications and Technology recently held a series of spectrum hearings to inform this national discussion. Wireless carriers are calling for additional spectrum to meet American consumers’ ever-increasing demand for mobile broadband services, whether on smartphones or tablets. The committee is engaging in a thoughtful discussion with economists and industry experts to determine how we can fulfill this need while encouraging private-sector investment, creating jobs and reducing the deficit.

Construction and maintenance of wireless networks is a capital-intensive venture. In the last decade, the wireless industry has invested more than $350 billion on network structures and equipment. In fact, in 2010 alone, U.S. wireless providers spent nearly $25 billion to upgrade and expand their wireless networks. Combine the growing need for wireless broadband deployment with the private sector’s resources, and the industry is ripe for job seekers.

Private-sector build-out of wireless networks is an infrastructure project that will enlist a workforce spanning a wide range of education and skill levels. From the high-tech design and production of networks and facilities to the building of towers and installation of equipment, American workers at all levels of the economy are beneficiaries of increased wireless investment. The latest estimates reveal that 2.4 million individuals rely directly and indirectly on the wireless industry for employment, and compensation for these jobs is 50 percent higher than the national average of other production workers.

Unlike jobs created under the stimulus, these are not temporary projects. And that was far from the only problem with the stimulus spending on broadband. Those dollars were scattered around the country in the form of broadband subsidies for projects that we now know were far from shovel-ready. Instead of that failed approach, we have the opportunity now to actually get wireless companies to pay the U.S. Treasury and pay down the debt.

To meet the incredible demand for wireless broadband, economists and industry experts have urged Congress to authorize “incentive auctions,” which would allow current licensees to voluntarily return some or all of their spectrum for auction in exchange for a share of the proceeds. Testimony at one of our recent hearings indicates that deploying spectrum through incentive auctions has the potential to create thousands of jobs and raise billions of dollars to reduce the federal deficit.

It is possible to fulfill the needs of American consumers while incentivizing growth in the private sector, and this is not a solitary opportunity. Taxing and spending can’t and won’t turn our struggling economy around. So House Republicans are taking a holistic approach to spur the economy by cutting spending, reducing the debt, cutting burdensome regulations and empowering job creators. I am pleased that we have worked in a bipartisan manner to promote broadband, and I hope our colleagues on the other side of the aisle will join the rest of our efforts to promote “A Plan for America’s Job Creators.”

Upton is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.