America’s Wireless Problem: Is Spectrum Demand Outgrowing Supply?

America’s Wireless Problem: Is Spectrum Demand Outgrowing Supply?


By: Melanie L. Campbell, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation

Wondering what your wireless experience will be like in a year or two?  As Washington Post’s Paul Farhi sees it, “Prepare to sit and wait. That call to Grandma might not get through until the congestion clears.”

Why the congestion?  The answer is all around us.  We’re gobbling up wireless data like spectrum grows on trees.  Just two examples:

  • About 25% of smartphone owners say they usually use a phone, not a computer, for Internet access. (Pew Internet Project)


The reality is, our phones aren’t really phones anymore; they are more like mini computers that happen to take calls.  Last week, the CEO of AT&T hit the nail on the head when he said that among young people “It’s almost uncool to talk on the phone.”

Welcome to the future.

If ever there is a time to fully advance President Obama’s vision for an America with universal and affordable broadband, through the National Broadband Plan, that time is now.  But, in order to achieve that vision, the government needs to take swift and decisive action now.

Why now? By acting swiftly to make spectrum more readily available, the government will have a great opportunity to help spur economic growth and have a more immediate impact on jobs, innovation and education.

As I understand it, the fastest way to make spectrum available to wireless users is to hold a spectrum auction open to all qualifying companies.  I believe, the potential benefits of such decisive action would:

  • Fast-track the auction process, which…
  • Supports ramped up investment, which…
  • Adds more bandwidth that developers then use to continue innovating, small businesses use to continue hiring, and the education sector uses to retrain the chronically unemployed

So, America, I don’t believe we have a wireless problem.  What we have is a historic opportunity to close the digital divide, create good high-tech jobs, increase access to quality affordable health care and increase educational opportunity and much more by making sure the regulations of public spectrum auctions are fair, swift and decisive.

MELANIE L. CAMPBELL is the president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and Convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable Intergenerational Public Policy Network. Ms. Campbell has served in the civil rights, social justice, youth and women’s rights movement for over 20 years. 


  1. Ms. Campbell, you are so right on target! Most Americans using cell phones are seen texting now, not talking and don't even understand spectrum and the potential problems that could arise from lack thereof! We just pick up the phone, google or bing whatever we need and think there is no end in sight to getting information in the blink of an eye.
    Even watching the news or a show on television, we have our tablet or our phone to type in things we want more information about.
    So, we better do something now, to ensure the world doesn't come to a complete stop, and I miss my weekly messaging (with pictures) to my mother!

  2. At any point in time, there's a finite amount of spectrum available. And while delivering more and more of the spectrum to the mobile telcos seems the expedient thing to do, I question whether it's the *best* route for achieving universal broadband access.

    We also know — some of us, anyway — there is more than one wireless technology, and that of the ones available, mobile telephony is the least capable for broadband service. I believe the public would be best served by the FCC freeing spectrum and setting the technical standards for multiple services and devices to access it, rather than auctioning it off to private interests. At the same time, a re-dedicated effort to build out fixed-wire infrastructure could be part of a viable strategy.

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  4. Most people do not even believe that there is a "limit" to their ability to use wireless technology much like they do not believe that it cost money to provide it to them. The challenge with the spectrum issue is that it can significantly affect their access in the future once they have become dependent on it for critical things. We need to make more people aware of these issue so they can fight to continue to get the wireless access they need.