Wireless Needs Breathing Room

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Th e following is an excerpt from Federal Communications
Commission Julius Genachowski’s speech to the 2011 Consumer
Electronics Show in Las Vegas last Friday:

The consumer-electronics industry
is going wireless, and the future success
of this wide-ranging industry and others depends
on whether our government acts quickly
to unleash more spectrum — the oxygen
that sustains our mobile devices.

We’re in the early stages of a mobile revolution
that is sparking an explosion in wireless
traffic. Without action, demand for spectrum
will soon outstrip supply.

To seize the opportunities of our mobile future,
we need to tackle the challenges of our
invisible infrastructure. We need to free up
more spectrum.

If we do, we can drive billions of dollars in new private
investment, fueling world-leading innovations, creating
millions of new jobs, and enabling endless new
products and services that can help improve the lives
of all Americans.

If we don’t tackle the spectrum challenge, network
congestion will grow, and consumer frustration will grow
with it. We’ll put our country’s economic competitiveness
at risk, and squander the opportunity to lead the world
in mobile.

That’s why unleashing spectrum to support mobile innovation
is at the top of the FCC’s 2011 agenda. Incentive
auctions are an essential tool to unleash spectrum, and
a vital part of seizing the opportunities of mobile. It’s a
non-partisan issue with bipartisan support.

You can certainly see our mobile future at CES, with
the breakthrough devices that surround us. … Everywhere
you look, mobile is becoming a staple of the workplace,
increasing productivity and contributing to our
economy. From managing crops on a farm to managing
inventory at Best Buy, mobile broadband is increasing
productivity and contributing to our economy.

Earlier today, we released our first FCC Labs Report
on Wireless Trends. It showed that at the beginning of
2008, only 7% of approved consumer electronic devices
had three or more wireless transmitters. Now, it’s almost
50%. A 700% increase in just three years.

Here’s the issue: All of these wireless innovations require
an invisible infrastructure that is up to the task.

They require something we can’t see — spectrum, the
airwaves — the signals that beam from towers and quietly
carry digital information — data, voice, video — until
they light up those devices we increasingly rely on.

Though we can’t see it, spectrum is becoming increasingly
essential to the daily lives of almost every

And whether or not most Americans know the physics
of spectrum, they know what it feels like to have a slow
connection or a call dropped. …

The facts don’t lie. The amount of spectrum for mobile
broadband in the FCC pipeline represents about a threefold
increase over where we were a few years ago. Sounds
good, until you see the forecasts of a 35 times increase in
mobile broadband traffic over the next five years.

And I believe that projection is conservative, not fully
accounting for the explosive growth of tablets and
other devices.

This coming spectrum crunch is not just a
real issue for the future of gadgets, it’s a vital
strategic issue for the future of our economy
and job creation, our global competitiveness,
and our quality of life.

Failure to tackle the spectrum challenge
could have disastrous consequences.

If we don’t act, frustrated consumers will
be forced to choose between lousy service
and rising prices, driving down both the
adoption and utility of mobile broadband in
the United States.

If we don’t act, we will put our country’s
economic competitiveness at risk.

Make no mistake: We are in a global race for world
leadership in mobile.

It’s vital that 21st century mobile innovations be developed
and launched here in America, and then exported
to the growing global market. It’s a key way we’ll create
jobs and opportunity in the United States.

Other countries aren’t standing still. Countries in Europe
and Asia are moving forward on freeing up spectrum
and investing in mobile broadband. Some project
Asia to have more 4G devices than the U.S. by 2014.

In 2011, a central priority at the FCC is unleashing
spectrum to spur innovation, economic growth and job

In our National Broadband Plan and elsewhere, we’ve
laid out a bold mobile innovation agenda, and we’ve already
made significant progress on multiple fronts.

Let me conclude by emphasizing the importance of
voluntary incentive auctions, a strong and essential idea
to promote each of the objectives I’ve mentioned.

The core idea behind incentive auctions is to utilize
free market forces to ensure that spectrum is put to its
most valued uses. The proposal would unlock substantial
value that is now untapped because of outdated policies.

Under the proposal, which was developed in the National
Broadband Plan, the FCC would auction spectrum
for flexible wireless broadband, with the spectrum in the
auction supplied on a voluntary basis by current licensees,
like mobile satellite licensees or TV broadcasters,
who would receive some portion of the proceeds of the
auction. … It relies on market-based incentives — hence,
“incentive auctions.”

To the hundreds of companies and groups that have
called for incentive auctions, I share your vision of what’s
necessary for U.S. leadership in mobile. I look forward to
working together to fight for our future.