Making the Case for More Wireless Spectrum

Carl Weinschenk
Slide Show

Top 10 Wireless Predictions for 2011

Spectrum is to telecommunications like water is to farmers or politicians are to campaign contributions. Spectrum is, of course, an especially contentious issue on the wireless front since it is a tightly controlled and constrained resource when it is not sent through a wire. The desire to get more of the precious commodity, in fact, is said to be one of the driving forces behind AT&T's desire to acquire T-Mobile.

Three recently published papers show the rationale behind the call for more spectrum-and hint at how tricky it is to free up.

The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) this week released a report that made a trio of points, all backed by extravagant numbers: Wireless use is increasing exponentially, a tremendous amount of spectrum will be needed to meet that increasing demand and the economic benefits of meeting the bandwidth challenge will be great. Specifically, the paper cites, among other numbers, that the FCC estimates that wireless data use will grow 3,506 percent by 2014 and that the International Telecommunication Union said that the United states will need to add 1,720 MHz of spectrum to satisfy broadband demand.

As interesting as those numbers are, perhaps the most interesting are on the employment side: The study says that a 1 percent increase in broadband deployments could add 300,000 jobs and that an investment of $17.4 billion in wireless broadband will generate $184.1 billion and create 6.3 million jobs in two years.

Another study on the need for wireless spectrum-by Rysavy Research-didn't use numbers to make its point. But it said that not freeing up bandwidth is penny-wise and pound-foolish. If the demand is not met, the impact on consumers would:

[I]nclude unreliable service and performance and potentially higher connectivity costs-a development that would place an essential modern service out of the reach of many Americans, including those who stand to gain the most from all that mobile connectivity has to offer. To the extent that service providers respond to capacity constraints by limiting demand through usage caps and significantly higher pricing, consumers' ability to access the Internet may be limited or come at a higher cost. These effects will particularly harm those, including many minorities and low income Americans, who primarily rely on their mobile devices to access the Internet.

Last month, the CTIA and the Consumer Electronics Association released a paper that said the federal government could raise $33 billion and broadcasters $2.3 billion if spectrum is divvied up using incentive auctions. The auctions-in which the broadcasters are coaxed into giving up spectrum for a portion of the proceeds the spectrum raises at auction-would cover 120 MHz of spectrum.

In regulatory and governmental affairs, it is difficult to accomplish anything-even things in which the benefits are obvious and there is no apparent risk to any party. Hopefully, that inertia will be overcome and a significant amount of spectrum will be added.

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