White House: Avoid airwave ‘crunch’

Top White House officials are making a pitch for the Obama administration’s efforts to free up the nation's airwaves.

The administration is taking an “all-of-the-above approach to making more spectrum available,” Council of Economic Advisors Chairman Jason FurmanJason FurmanIn surprise, unemployment rate falls, economy adds jobs Overnight Health Care: Global coronavirus cases top 1M | Cities across country in danger of becoming new hotspots | Trump to recommend certain Americans wear masks | Record 6.6M file jobless claims The Memo: Scale of economic crisis sends shudders through nation MORE and U.S. chief technology officer Megan Smith wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, calling the effort “one of the most critical infrastructure projects of the 21st century.”

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Obama has set a goal of freeing up 500 megahertz of the country's spectrum for wireless companies such as AT&T and Verizon by the year 2020. Those companies are hungry to keep up with consumers’ demands for more data and faster Internet speeds on their phones and tablets.

In their op-ed, Smith and Furman pointed to an ongoing auction of government airwaves that has raked in more than $44 billion — an outrageous sum that surpassed many expectations. The profits from that action will go to fund a nationwide communications network for first responders and pay down the federal deficit.

A followup auction is scheduled to take place next year, in which broadcast TV stations around the country will sell their licenses to the airwaves to the government, which will then repackage and resell it to wireless companies.

“When the spectrum shifts to more valuable uses, broadcasters, wireless companies and taxpayers are all better off — but most important, the workers who build the networks and the consumers who use them also benefit,” Smith and Furman wrote.

They also noted the administration’s efforts to have agencies condense or share the wavelengths they use, to maximize the government’s use of spectrum.