Mobile Future

Why State Regulators Should Care About Spectrum

State regulators have gathered from across the country this week for the winter meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) here in Washington.  Mobile Future Chairman Jonathan Spalter participated on a lively panel exploring the exploding demand for mobile connectivity, and what a predicted spectrum crunch means for consumers and the nation’s economy.

Consider the benefits of mobile broadband: constant and instant connectivity with people around the world in the palm of your hand.  Near limitless possibilities for innovation and investment.  In the U.S., one of the crucial benefits of wireless is the impact on the economy. Researchers Robert Shapiro and KevinHassett concluded that transitions from early wireless networks to more advanced 3G and 4G technology led to some 1.5 million new jobs from April 2007 to June 2011.  For every additional 10% increase in adoption of 3G and 4G technologies, 231,000 new jobs may be added in less than a year.  Plus, with an additional 500 MHz of spectrum for mobile, the Analysis Group conservatively estimates that we can create 500,000 American jobs and add $400 billion to the nation’s GDP.  Spectrum is the lifeblood of wireless, becoming more and more vital to our economy and how we conduct our everyday lives.

No one wants to go back to the days of the ‘busy signal.’  If we don’t reallocate more spectrum for wireless now, the capacity constraints could wreak havoc on the consumer experience – more dropped calls, stalled apps, and slow mobile Internet connections.  State and federal regulators alike need to support policies that help get spectrum to those who need it the most – the 300 million wireless consumers.

So what can state policymakers do?  Some states have the authority to review secondary market transactions within their state.  Timely approval of thosetransactions is necessary so providers can swiftly make the best use of thespectrum that is available to them.  Additionally, state regulators can help educate local municipalities.  Acting as a resource on the capacity constraints of wireless networks may help to smooth tower siting approvals so providers can build out and expand their networks, allowing consumers to continue to enjoy unfettered access to mobile broadband.

State regulators should also encourage their federal counterparts to act now to free more spectrum for mobile.  Congress is working on federal legislation authorizing the FCC to conduct incentive auctions and we strongly urge them to enact legislation quickly.  As Jonathan said yesterday, “we need to stop playing games; it can take seven to 10 years to put any new spectrum into not only the pipeline but into commercial deployment.  We don’t have time to waste.”

Consumers are demanding a mobile future.  Policymakers must act now on these opportunities, before the spectrum crunch becomes a reality and millions of Americans are left waiting for many of the advantages mobile broadband can offer.