by Robert Shrum, myWireless.org
Earlier this week, The Brattle Group released a study highlighting the essential value of licensed spectrum to America’s economy, job creation, technological innovation, and most specifically, the wireless sector and consumers.
For a quick refresher, “spectrum” refers to the radio frequencies that allow hundreds of millions of people to use wireless service across the country. Only a finite amount of those frequencies are usable for mobile broadband service today, creating heavy demand for access to this critical resource. The spectrum used by your wireless provider is licensed (meaning dedicated for specific network use.) This licensed spectrum is the crucial highway that all wireless network information travels on – without it, your service wouldn’t exist. Chances are the phone you are using is dependent upon spectrum sold at auction in 2006 and 2008.
Not surprising, the licensed spectrum currently being used by providers is incredibly valuable. In the report, The Brattle Group reveals, “We estimate that the economic value of the 645.5 MHz of licensed spectrum is almost $500 billion.” Even more shocking is the finding that the current value of social welfare from the benefits of wireless services generated by licensed spectrum is 10 to 20 times that of its direct market value (between $5 trillion and $10 trillion).
Additionally, this licensed spectrum has a huge positive impact on the national economy, resulting in over $400 billion in economic activity per year throughout the country due to wireless companies and industry employees. This figure does not even include the economic benefits from innovations in mobile education, mobile health, and other similar business and services now reliant on licensed spectrum. That additional impact is especially evident in states where the booming app economy is a key driver of economic activity and job creation.
As more of these wireless-reliant industries emerge and wireless devices such as smartphones and smart devices continue to advance in functionality, larger amounts of licensed spectrum will be required to operate networks and transport information.What is being done to meet this rising demand? In the paper, the Brattle Group notes that a net of 98.5 megahertz of licensed spectrum has been reallocated for commercial use since the 2010 release of the Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan, which called for an additional 300 MHz of spectrum to be made available for licensed use by this year and a total of 500 MHz by 2020.
To help meet these targets, the FCC has scheduled an incentive auction for next year where television broadcasters will be able to voluntarily sell their spectrum to the FCC, which will then repackage and auction it off to wireless providers. A similar auction resulted in more than $40 billion in proceeds last winter.These auctions are significant steps forward, but unfortunately won’t meet the full demands of American consumers. It is urgent that Congress, the FCC and NTIA work in collaboration with the private sector to identify a future pipeline of additional spectrum for licensed use before it’s too late and the looming wireless traffic jam brings your smartphone to a screeching halt. We have no plan for after 2020 as a nation to address our mobile needs. It is time to start that dialogue.