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Tech policy belongs on the 2016 campaign agenda

Richard Adler | July 16, 2015
Telecommunications policy is likely to be ignored in the presidential election, but it shouldn't be.

Attention must be paid

One good thing that came out of the net neutrality debate was that it established unequivocally that having access to the Internet and the resources that it provides is critically important to millions of people. Thanks to the pervasiveness of wired and wireless broadband, high-speed, virtually instantaneous access to the Internet is now almost taken for granted. For many of us, this is a matter of daily personal experience: We rely on the Internet for many vital aspects of our lives, from keeping in touch with friends and family to keeping up with the news, getting instant answers to questions, navigating the world, and much more.

But the importance of the Internet goes beyond these aspects of daily life. It is a key forum for political discourse; it is the primary channel over which financial transactions are conducted; it provides the infrastructure that now underlies virtually every industry sector; and it is a vital platform that supports and accelerates the innovation that is driving economic growth and keeping this country competitive globally.

Realistically, it will be difficult for communications and technology regulations to feature prominently in the presidential debates. But the reality is that these issues are intimately connected to the challenge of maintaining healthy growth and ensuring economic opportunity for all Americans, and any platform that calls for faster economic growth needs to include communications policy.

Three key issues

There are several good reasons why the issue of communications policy deserves attention. Let me point out three key areas where change is urgently needed:

1)   Freeing up more spectrum faster. We live in a mobile world. Today, there are 4.3 billion mobile users worldwide (59 percent of the global population). According to Cisco, there will be 5.2 billion mobile users worldwide (69 percent of the global population) by 2019. At the same time, Cisco projects that the amount of data sent and received by the average user will grow nearly eightfold, from 359MB per month to 2.8GB per month. As a result, worldwide mobile data traffic will grow nearly 10 times, from 2.5 exabytes per month to 24.3 exabytes per month (1 exabyte is a million terabytes).

The lifeblood of wireless mobility is spectrum. The government has begun to open up additional spectrum for wireless communications, but it needs to do more. More than half of all spectrum is reserved for government use (Scott Cleland, chairman of Net Competition, has estimated that the government still controls approximately 85 percent of all spectrum), despite a widely held view that the government tends not to use this resource efficiently. Several innovative strategies for increasing the transfer of spectrum from public to private users have been offered, including a system that would effectively charge government agencies for their spectrum use rather than treating it as a free good. An election campaign that includes a debate about spectrum policy would be a good way to surface additional ideas for freeing up spectrum. Also worth exploring are proposals to increase the efficiency by using advanced technologies to build more sophisticated wireless devices that enable spectrum to be shared.


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