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More Spectrum Benefits All

Mobile broadband has dramatically changed how Americans access information.  It is spurring innovation, expanding educational opportunities, increasing productivity, and -with the explosive popularity of smartphones -becoming the primary pathway to the Internet for many Americans.  However, a supply shortage is accompanying the increase in demand.  Spectrum, the vehicle over which data from wireless devices travels, is shrinking at an alarming rate.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) research on the issue is telling.  The agency reported that smartphones consume 24 times more data than traditional cell phones, and the mobile devices are actually outselling traditional computers.  Moreover, the FCC estimated that wireless networks carried about 17 petabytes per month in 2009, or the data equivalent of 1,700 Libraries of Congress.  And these findings simply tell us what has already happened.  Analysts have also predicted that broadband traffic will increase 35 times over the next five years

While these reports sound bleak and should raise alarms, there is an easy remedy:  incentive auctions.  Today, the 112th Congress passed legislation to approve these auctions, and in doing so, has illustrated its commitment to spur innovation, raise revenue to combat the U.S. deficit and create jobs.  Ignoring the issue for much longer, or making it a political football would have created unnecessary consequences in the way of stifled innovation and sluggish economic growth.

The United States has long been an incubator of innovation, and spectrum ensures that legacy remains intact.  Manufacturers of wireless devices fully understand that without spectrum, their products cannot be enjoyed.  In finding ways to remedy the spectrum shortage, the federal government is investing in innovation and instilling the confidence innovators need to think creatively to continue their development of cutting edge technologies.  Failing to make this promise to innovators is certain to slow down the advancements made in wireless technology and will ultimately stifle economic growth.

Incentive auctions will also create a windfall for the federal government to combat the deficit, something that has long been on the minds of those both inside- and outside- the Beltway.  In June of 2011, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that $24.5 billion could be made available in offering spectrum auctions.  Not to mention the tax revenue the federal government could raise following the expansion or creation of new businesses.

Finally, spectrum creates jobs.  As the country's unemployment rate hovers stubbornly above 8 percent, it is crucial that we look for ways to put people back to work.  Studies indicate that spectrum, and the subsequent development of wireless networks, could account for nearly $151 billion in GDP growth and between 370,000 and 770,000 new jobs.  Moreover, the Brookings Institute reported in 2007 that for every 1 percent increase in broadband penetration -or the increased Internet access in rural areas that would inevitably accompany an increase in spectrum -300,000 jobs would be created.

While the recent approval of incentive auctions is welcome news, this cannot be the final act on the issue.  As mobile devices continually grow in popularity, so does the data that's transferred, and the subsequent need for more spectrum.  Future policymakers would do us all a favor by ensuring a plan is in place to regularly address the predictable shortages.  The 21st century economy is moving at an unprecedented speed and requires an increase in global interconnectedness.  To meet this challenge, office holders and candidates alike should see this simple, bi-partisan issue as an easy one to rally behind.  In making more spectrum available and encouraging ingenuity, policymakers can reduce the deficit, foster innovation and put people back to work, three ingredients that are sure to improve the country's overall economic outlook.

Public Policy Tags: Broadband, Communications, & Spectrum