Wireless lobby: Feds need to 'keep feeding the beast' on spectrum

Officials with trade group CTIA – The Wireless Association are pressing regulators to license more radio frequencies for wireless networks.

“We have to keep feeding the beast,” said Tom Power, the group’s general counsel and senior vice president, as he unveiled a study on the economic impact of licensed spectrum. 

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), usually on a location-by-location basis, auctions off radio frequencies. Wireless providers like Verizon and AT&T want access to more spectrum to keep pace with the growing use of data-hungry smartphones.

“As this report shows, policymakers need to continue to look for hundreds of MHz of additional licensed spectrum so this economic growth is sustained and America remains the global leader in this rapidly changing sector,” CTIA President Meredith Attwell Baker said in a statement.

“Licensed spectrum serves as the industry’s backbone for network operators to boost speeds and capacity, device manufacturers to develop new products and apps and content developers to create new offerings.”

The study released by CTIA, conducted for the lobby by the Brattle Group, says that licensed spectrum contributed $400 billion to the economy in 2013. Some of that money came directly from consumers who paid for wireless services, while more came from indirect spending related to the wireless industry — like the construction of cell phone towers.

“Quite simply, every dollar spent on wireless service resulted in $2.32 of total spending,” the report’s authors wrote. 

The report found that six and a half jobs are associated with every one person employed in the wireless industry.

The FCC regulates commercial uses of radio spectrum. The federal government also has exclusive use of certain radio frequencies for agencies like the Department of Defense.

The FCC is planning to buy spectrum from broadcasters next year and resell it to wireless providers. A spectrum auction in January raised $44.9 billion from a variety of providers. 

“We just completed what was the largest auction in terms of revenue and we have another big auction potentially coming up next year, but nothing really on the horizon after that while demand for mobile broadband continues to escalate,” Power said.