- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 6, 2009

As our nation struggles to emerge from a deep recession and wrestles with ways to solve major health care, energy efficiency and transportation challenges, one important solution sits right in front of us and yet is completely unseen: our nation’s airwaves.

For more than 20 years, our critical information and communications technology industries have been supported by bipartisan policies that made spectrum available for new wireless technologies. Whether making more efficient use of broadcast spectrum through the digital television transition or allowing shared access to government spectrum allocations, these policies fostered a wave of innovation and investment.

From 3G mobile services to Wi-Fi WiMax and emerging wireless broadband, the key input of access to the radio spectrum has kept America at the cutting edge of innovation and global competitiveness. Now more than ever it is important that we continue these policies, as the Federal Communications Commission essentially acknowledged last week when it launched a review of the wireless industry.

Leveraging this critical public resource, diverse industries from equipment manufacturers to software developers and wireless-service providers are investing billions of dollars and delivering high-paying, skilled jobs across the country. While significant in their own right, these investments also produce productivity and efficiency gains across the economy.

Today, nearly every business in the United States relies on mobile communications. The mobile wireless industry has become an engine for growth, directly contributing to the U.S. economy and improving the way we work and live.

Just check your hip pocket, jacket or purse and, chances are, you can confirm that wireless technologies are increasingly ubiquitous. More than 270 million Americans rely on their mobile phones to manage their personal and work lives, using ever more sophisticated devices, applications and networks.

But the “whenever, wherever” flexibility of wireless service goes beyond our personal convenience. It is increasingly being harnessed to provide mobile health solutions, sophisticated smart electrical grid applications, and more intelligent transportation management.

Finding new sources of spectrum is essential if we want to ensure continued technological advancements and meet growing demand. Consumers are adopting mobile broadband services at a blistering pace. Between 2005 and 2008, mobile wireless services were the fastest-growing platform for high-speed Internet access, with more consumers adopting wireless broadband services than fixed and cable broadband services combined.

At the same time, wireless broadband services are going through a period of stunning innovation. Just this past year, at least six application stores have launched, offering over 40,000 so-called “apps” to consumers — whenever and wherever they want.

Getting started now is critical because we are in a global communications race. Policymakers are engaged in a concerted effort to restore the United States to its position as the global leader in cutting-edge telecommunications. Yet, America trails significantly behind its leading global competitors in making available new spectrum resources for licensed commercial use.

U.S. commercial wireless carriers are among the most efficient users of spectrum worldwide, serving more customers (who use more minutes than their counterparts) and using less spectrum than carriers in Europe and Japan. By comparison, policymakers in the United Kingdom are in the process of bringing to market new spectrum resources seven times greater than what we have “in the pipeline” here in the United States. Given that U.S. carriers serve more than three times the number of customers served in the U.K., it is imperative that we jumpstart the process of freeing up additional spectrum resources.

This is why it is encouraging to see that Congress has recently turned its attention to the important task of identifying additional spectrum for commercial wireless services. Last month, the Senate Commerce Committee voted unanimously to approve a bill calling on the Federal Communications Commission and the Commerce Department to catalogue how wireless airwaves are being used.

A similar bill has been introduced in the House. Likewise, we welcome the Obama administration’s commitment for America to be the world leader in communications. The administration and Congress also have charged the FCC with developing a national broadband plan to ensure that all Americans have access to high-speed Internet access. As that plan is developed, at its center should be a commitment to identifying additional spectrum for commercial use.

The radio spectrum enables our most dynamic and important industries. Passing spectrum inventory legislation and placing spectrum at the center of our national broadband plan will be essential to provide America the wireless future it deserves.

Larry Irving and John Kneuer each served as assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information as well as administrator of the National Telecommunications Information Administration. Mr. Irving served under President Clinton, and Mr. Kneuer served under President George W. Bush.

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