Wireless broadband is a call to action

June 14, 2011

Published in The Hill.  

By Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Palo Alto)

The wireless revolution is transforming the way we do business, educate our kids, and live our lives. But it's only just begun. More consumers are using smartphones, tablets and other wireless devices as they recognize the benefits of being able to access the Internet any time, any place. No longer are these devices just a means for accessing e-mail and basic news on the go. They now allow us to stream movies, play online games, and participate in video conferences. To meet these growing demands and ensure all Americans have access to a high-speed, robust wireless connection, the U.S. needs an updated policy to ensure we can meet these consumer demands.

Cisco's recently released Annual Internet Forecast sums up the situation, predicting "the number of network-connected devices will soar to more than 15 billion by 2015, and global Internet traffic will quadruple" each year. Given this demand, wireless broadband has the opportunity to drive a fundamentally different landscape, but that requires more spectrum. Simply put, spectrum is the intangible road that allows data to travel seamlessly through the air.

That's why the president laid out an ambitious agenda to free up 500 MHz of spectrum for wireless broadband over the next 10 years, and enable at least 98 percent of the country to connect to high-speed wireless networks. It's why my work at the House Energy and Commerce Committee is focused on examining the issues that will promote an expansion of wireless broadband and make more spectrum available for commercial uses.

One of the clear benefits of freeing up more spectrum for wireless broadband is the creation of more jobs. For example, wireless broadband is powering the "mobile apps" market. Just three years ago, Apple's App Store had 500 third-party apps; today, there are well over 350,000, with the vast majority developed by small businesses. One estimate suggested the mobile app market would create, save or supplement more than 600,000 U.S. jobs. And the apps themselves have changed our lives ... today's apps inform, entertain and make our lives easier.

Beyond the continued growth of the mobile app market, spectrum has the ability to help us build a nationwide, interoperable public safety network. Nearly a decade after the attack on our country, we remain without a nationwide network that allows our first responders to communicate seamlessly. This issue must be resolved.

While more spectrum dedicated to wireless broadband will revolutionize the way we connect to the Internet, a wireless network still needs a wired infrastructure at the core. To accomplish this, I've introduced the Broadband Conduit Deployment Act of 2011. This legislation requires the inclusion of "broadband conduit," or plastic pipes, that house fiber-optic communication cables during the construction and repair of all federal highways and will give companies across the country the tools they need to continue creating jobs and developing new innovative technologies.

Just a decade ago, we could not have imagined what we have today — mobile applications and services that enable us to connect to friends both far and near, giving us the ability to do work from just about anywhere. And today, we can't imagine the new developments a decade from now. While the wireless revolution taking place today is a reminder that American ingenuity and innovation is alive and well, we have much more work to do. That's why I'm committed to crafting a plan that will inspire new innovation, create jobs, and bring wireless broadband to all Americans.

Eshoo serves as the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Communications and Technology subcommittee.