In 2013, the number of active smartphones worldwide reached more than 1 billion. How should policymakers respond to the accelerating speed of the mobile revolution, the increasing demand for broadband spectrum, and what policy steps should be taken to further public and private investment and advances in U.S mobile technology?
To delve into the issues concerning the mobile technology revolution, a conversation was held June 12th with AT&T Chairman, CEO Randall Stephenson and Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor at Brookings Institution. Darrell West, Vice President and Director of Governance Studies and the Director for the Center for Technology Innovation led the discussion.
Stephenson emphasized that if we look around the globe, U.S policy is the most pro-competitive and draws more investment and innovation than the rest of the world. In Europe, mobile internet technology did not take off like in the U.S.
In 1994, the FCC conducted auctions of licenses for electromagnetic spectrum with more auctions planned in the future. The auctions are open to any eligible company that submits an application. As Stephenson said, “With spectrum, you have to ask and determine what you want to accomplish in terms of revenue.
It is also important to consider that the auction isn’t just about broadcasters and wireless carriers as the revenue gained would also be used to fund the First Responder Network Authority and the Next Generation 911.
There are other questions to ask. Should smaller nationwide mobile carriers compete with larger companies and do we want to let all wireless players participate or do we want to let market forces determine who wins or loses.
As Stephenson mentioned, it is important for public policy to be transparent. Public policy is moving quickly but if the auction is pushed to 2014 or 2015, our country really doesn’t know what the market will look like as the market is always changing.
As Stephenson foresees future changes, video use will drive spectrum requirements since in the future, our society will use video everyday for most of what we do in our daily lives and he also predicts that POTS will sunset by 2020.
Senator Pryor is a member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet. One of the Senator’s main priorities is to help rural communities meet growing infrastructure needs and this includes addressing disparities in broadband services that exist.
He reports that a series of hearings have been held on Capitol Hill to talk about wireless, spectrum, and other related issues. As he told the audience at Brookings, spectrum is at a premium and limited, so different people may think differently about the issue.
He said “The Federal government owns a lot of spectrum such as in the case of the Department of Defense and other intelligence agencies. These agencies have an enormous need for spectrum especially for the long term.”
The Senator wants to have discussions to find out what the FCC and stakeholders want so that there is an understanding on how to distribute the spectrum right since policies concerning spectrum have long term ramifications.
As he explained, “The distribution of spectrum is difficult since you don’t want to hurt consumers, destroy competiveness, or limit innovation performed by companies. It’s important to have input from a number of sources so the FCC can appropriately structure and design the auctions, get the right incentives on board, get the public policies right, and at the same time foster competition. In turn, this will lead to greater innovations and investments and produce the mobile technology revolution that the world will need to experience.”