Congress Could Improve Our Smartphone Experience

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The capability and functionality of smartphones and tablet computers continue to grow every day. Navigation systems, video chats and conferencing, e-commerce, video and camera functions, and entertainment -- these devices are revolutionizing our lives.

As with so many great things, however, there’s another side. A tablet computer’s greater functionality and ability to transmit data rather than just voice means it can use up to 120 times more spectrum than the simple cell phone of a decade ago. Unfortunately, the amount of spectrum available for wireless users hasn’t kept up with technology innovations.

The recent Super Bowl was a great game, setting a record for the number of viewers. That evening, however, another record was set: the game started with about 10,000 tweets per second and by the final moments of the game, the number of tweets increased to over 12,000 per second. Clearly, the mobile broadband network was stretched thin that night. This just one example of how our country’s limited spectrum is becoming more and more congested, raising the possibility of “spectrum exhaust” in a few short years if something isn’t done now.

Our lawmakers, however, can take immediate action to address this spectrum exhaust by giving the FCC the authority to make more of it available for us to share. A bill in the House would do just that, giving the FCC the authority it needs to hold incentive auctions to free up wireless spectrum for use by wireless carriers. The bill further provides that the FCC let all interested parties bid for all bands of the spectrum, without unreasonable bidder eligibility rules or restraints placed on its use. Incentive auctions, which have been most successful in the past when they had the least restrictions, would get the spectrum into the hands of wireless network operators to then be made available for use by consumers and businesses in both major cities and rural areas around the country. These auctions will also help reduce the Federal deficit, offering an important boost to the U.S. economy. The bill, and spectrum reform more generally, benefits consumers for a number of reasons.

First and most important, fair and open auctions would ensure our smartphones and devices remain secure and reliable, with less risk of dropped calls. Consumers who depend on their phones in our mobile, always on-the-go, lifestyle need the greater reliability and better service that spectrum reform will ensure. While it is very important that our calls go through to a spouse, parent or our kids it’s also critical that the new smartphone-based health and learning applications have good connections. Can you imagine the impact of a dropped connection on a patient communicating with her doctor through new smartphone-based health applications or a student taking a distance learning course via a tablet computer?  These are the kinds of applications that spectrum reform will increasingly make part of our everyday lives.

Second, spectrum reform will ensure further deployment of advanced, fourth-generation wireless broadband services for rural consumers and others who live in underserved areas. With more spectrum, these users will be able to share in the benefits of advanced wireless broadband on an equal basis. For example, an entrepreneur will be able to sell her products remotely or a farmer will have the capability for up-to-the-minute weather or pricing forecasts.

Third, spectrum reform is good for the economy as a whole. TechNet recently reported that over 450,000 jobs have been added in the United States in the “app economy” since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, even during the economic downturn. A recent study from two noted economists, formerly with the Commerce Department and the IMF, noted that the previous transition, from second- to third-generation systems (essentially, from regular cellphones to smartphones) added almost 1.6 million jobs to the economy. The transition we’re undergoing now (to 4G systems), is expected to add over 230,000 jobs this year. This kind of wireless innovation, and the jobs created from it, wouldn’t have been possible without ample amounts of spectrum.

While network operators are working with their engineers on innovative ways to make more efficient use of the spectrum we already have, it’s just not enough to keep up with consumer demand. That’s why we need the kind of spectrum reform offered in the House bill: a way to make more spectrum available for wireless users more quickly, offer better service for customers, and help the economy. We need spectrum reform now: consumers can’t wait.