Your smartphone runs on spectrum. Exciting innovations like the Internet of Things, wearables, 5G and mHealth all depend upon a mobile infrastructure built on spectrum. The FCC is finalizing its rules for the next big spectrum auction, and it is important that the agency make available as much licensed spectrum as possible for mobile broadband.
More than half of today’s Internet traffic comes from mobile and the U.S. leads the world in 4G services and apps. Incredibly, more than a third of Americans said their mobile devices are the first thing they reach for in the morning – before their toothbrushes, coffee or significant other.
Our mobile connected life means more demand for wireless data. By 2019, wireless networks will face an estimated six-fold increase in data traffic over record 2014 levels. While carriers continue to improve their networks (investing more than $32 billion last year) and aggressively deploy 4G LTE across the country, infrastructure and technology cannot meet this growing demand alone. We will need more than 350 MHz of new licensed spectrum by the end of the decade just to keep up with how you will use your wireless devices.
In 2012, bipartisan members of Congress recognized the need for more spectrum and directed the FCC to conduct the first-of-its-kind incentive auction. This auction, which will repurpose a portion of spectrum currently used by broadcasters, is a test case for exploring new ways to get spectrum to market. Instead of bidding on empty spectrum bands, wireless providers will need to meet the price of television broadcasters in order to free up spectrum. If we structure it right, this will be a win-win-win for consumers, broadcasters and wireless carriers.
By its novel, two-sided nature, the incentive auction is a difficult undertaking. The FCC deserves credit for moving this complex process along, and must now adopt final auction rules that are as simple and clear as the goal for the auction itself. Here is a three-point roadmap for a successful and timely auction.
First, the FCC must maximize the amount of unencumbered licensed spectrum made available. Wireless operators need spectrum free of interference to provide the reliable and robust service you expect. We do not object to others using this spectrum for free – whether it be Wi-Fi, wireless microphones or other unlicensed devices – as long as their use does not interfere with licensed users or reduce the amount of usable licensed spectrum available. Not only is that what Congress required, it is also the only way we will meet our nation’s spectrum needs. Our industry is prepared to invest significantly in this new spectrum, but only if the FCC is prepared to protect that investment.
Second, the FCC must minimize uncertainty by providing wireless operators with all the information necessary to make informed bidding decisions. Potential bidders are being asked to invest billions in this spectrum. Your wireless company just needs the means and sufficient time to analyze the data to ensure it knows what it is bidding for in the auction.
Third, the FCC must incentivize broadband deployment by ensuring wireless carriers can access their purchased spectrum as quickly as possible post-auction. Wireless carriers should not be required to jump through unnecessary regulatory hurdles to access their own spectrum or to delay investments in order to accommodate those that use their spectrum for free. Such a result could deter participation and erode wireless operators’ confidence in their spectrum rights.
These three simple steps can be the key building blocks to a successful FCC auction – unlocking a new generation of mobile innovation and investment, helping meet our national licensed spectrum needs and raising billions to reduce the deficit.
Baker is president and CEO of CTIA-The Wireless Association.