Tuesday, all five FCC Commissioners, including recently confirmed Commissioners Pai and Rosenworcel, testified before the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. They had some good news and some bad news.
First for the good:
According to Chairman Genachowski, the US leads the world in mobile broadband investment, deployment and innovation. Last year, more than $25 billion was invested in United States’ wireless infrastructure. That dwarfs the $18.6 billion investment made in the 15 largest European economies combined. Moreover, in terms of the number of mobile broadband subscriptions, the U.S. is home to 21 percent of the world’s 3G/4G subscribers and approximately 69 percent of the world’s LTE subscribers even though we make up less than five percent of the global population. In other words, we’re at the top of the wireless heap.
Now for the bad:
Our position at the forefront of wireless innovation and adoption is not secure. All, yes, all, of the commissioners agreed that the continued success of U.S. wireless innovation depends on making more spectrum available for consumers. According to Commissioner Rosenworcel, “In the next five years, mobile data traffic will grow between 16 and 35 times.” Without adequate spectrum to support such soaring mobile broadband usage rates, we will strain existing spectrum resources and our innovation economy will stagnate.
Our successes as a nation in the wireless marketplace have not resulted from government subsidy, instead we owe our global leadership position to private investment in cutting edge technologies. To continue to thrive, we need more initiatives directed at eliminating barriers to investment. Chairman Genachowski himself affirmed that this should be a priority.
The implications of continuing to lead the world in wireless innovation are far-reaching. While the economic and innovation benefits of US mobile global leadership are undeniable, mobile broadband is also crucial to broader societal objectives like eliminating the digital divide.
According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, members of the Hispanic and African American communities are using their smartphones and mobile devices as their primary way to browse the Internet. Specifically,
- 49 percent of African Americans and Hispanic Americans now own smartphones compared to 45 percent of whites.
- 51 percent of African Americans and 42 percent of Hispanic Americans do most of their online browsing using a mobile phone compared to 24 percent of whites.
Without action from the government to make more spectrum available, these services and devices will suffer.
Thankfully, during the hearing, the Commissioners acknowledged the need for action and outlined some of the ways that the Commission is working to anticipate increasing consumer demand and the steps that it is taking to make more spectrum available for consumers.
Some of the actions include moving forward with incentive auctions, speeding up the review of secondary markets transactions and working with NTIA on spectrum sharing initiatives. While the hearing made clear that the FCC has a lot on its plate, it is gratifying to hear that the Commission is working to secure our wireless future, ensure continued US innovation leadership and help bridge the digital divide by freeing up more spectrum for consumers.