By Mike Montgomery
As seen on The Huffington Post
Last week, the White House dropped a broadband bombshell in the form of a series of initiatives aimed at freeing up government-controlled spectrum for wireless providers. It also released a new report, “Four Years of Broadband Growth,” which is brimming with positive news about our nation’s broadband infrastructure.
It was a good week for both consumers and our country’s vibrant tech industry.
In Silicon Valley, President Obama’s focus on spectrum was especially welcome. In many ways, mobile broadband has become the lifeblood of our tech community. But as wireless providers are increasingly strapped for spectrum — and consumers continue to embrace mobile broadband at an unprecedented pace — there have been valid concerns that the blood would stop flowing. Or at the very least, that clogged airwaves would give the local tech industry chest pains.
As the single largest holder of spectrum, the U.S. government has the power to ensure America remains at the forefront of mobile broadband. The FCC’s upcoming spectrum incentive auctions have the potential to alleviate some of the congestion wireless providers face, but the fact of the matter is more action will be needed to free up spectrum, and needed quickly, in order to keep up with ever-growing consumer demand for advanced broadband-enabled services and applications.
While you could easily take the cynical view and declare allocating more spectrum for wireless is long overdue, it’s worth remembering that mobile broadband — and the mobile app industry it has sparked — is still in its infancy. The smartphone revolution only really began six years ago, after all, and outside of a select few visionaries, few had anticipated the monumental shift that has followed.
If wireless providers were caught somewhat flat footed by the sudden surge in demand for data on their networks, they’ve been investing billions to catch up. As the White House broadband report shows, annual investment in wireless networks jumped by more than 40 percent from 2009 to 2012 — from $21 billion a year to $30 billion. At the same time, the report finds, investment in Europe was static, and in Asia — including China — it only increased by 4 percent.
For Silicon Valley, all this investment in wireless infrastructure has helped inspire a wave of innovation and economic growth. And with more than 500 million connected devices and counting in America, we may only be at just the beginning of the mobile broadband boom. That’s what makes President Obama’s focus on spectrum so critical. More spectrum will mean more powerful networks, which will mean more innovation, which will inspire more investment in more powerful broadband networks.
As long as government policies continue to encourage investment in our nation’s broadband networks, this cycle of investment and innovation has the potential to become an even bigger economic powerhouse. President Obama has called for every part of America to be connected to the digital age. For Silicon Valley, and the country’s other tech hubs, that’s a goal worth achieving.