Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., meets with fellow committee members shortly after adjourning the hearing
By: Rebeca Berger
The Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet will reintroduce the MOBILE NOW Act to the floor following a hearing Thursday about the economic benefits of spectrum policy.
The MOBILE NOW Act, also known as the Making Opportunities for Broadband Investment and Limiting Excessive and Needless Obstacles to Wireless Act, would promote making more wireless spectrum available and reduce obstacles to building out networks.
Advocates say the passing of this bill will also help the United States maintain its status as a leader in the technology industry and the first to introduce 5G mobile networks— ahead of Japan, China, South Korea, and the EU—their fiercest competitors.
In its first hearing of the 115th Congress, the subcommittee’s chairman, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and other attendees heard testimony from a panel of five experts in the technology field, including Scott Bergmann, the vice president of regulatory affairs at the CTIA – the Wireless Association, Roger Entner, the founder of Recon Analytics, Dave Heiner, the vice president and deputy general counsel at Microsoft, Pat LaPlatney, the president and CEO at Raycom Media, and Tom Stroup, the president of Satellite Industry Association.
Senator Brian Schatz, D-HI, began the discussion with an overall definition of spectrum and where it has impacted breakthroughs within the technology industry.
“Spectrum is the invisible infrastructure that has become the on-ramp to access the Internet. Thanks to mobile and wireless technologies, people can read the news, transfer money, watch shows, video chat with a doctor, all from their mobile device. In a very short time, these technologies have transformed our lives with new 5G wireless networks and the demand for spectrum will continue to grow,” Schatz said.
This demand for spectrum, across both licensed and unlicensed networks, has increased exponentially over the last decade due to consumers’ need for constant Internet connection on their many devices.
“In 2015, Americans spent 2.9 trillion minutes talking on their mobile phones, sent 1.9 trillion text messages, 218 billion pictures and used 9.6 trillion MB of data,” Entner said.
Furthermore, according to Bergmann, $300 billion was invested in last 10 years related to broadband use, creating 4.6 million jobs. In addition, data traffic has increased more than 25 times since 2010 and is expected to increase another five times by 2021.
Based on the statistics reported by experts at the hearing, it is clear people are demanding more spectrum, and that its contributions to the overall GDP and the job market are a positive influence on the economy.
However, what people don’t always see is that the benefits of utilizing more spectrum across larger wireless networks spans far beyond the economic component. In fact, experts are saying that clearing more spectrum will improve industries such as farming, transportation, healthcare, public safety, and national security.
In Bergmann’s testimony, he said, “Farmers have been using wireless technology to prevent the over- and under-watering of crops and to preserve resources during droughts, demonstrating the benefits of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Next-Generation technologies in rural areas.”
This so-called Next-Gen technology will also help consumers receive emergency weather alerts from their devices quicker, and have more capabilities to call for an emergency response team in case of injury.
To put it in numbers, a one-minute improvement in emergency response time translates to an eight percent reduction in mortality, according to Bergmann.
LaPlatney explained the premise behind Next-Gen TV in further detail.
“Next-Gen TV is a crystal-clear, ultra high-def TV picture that enhances the broadcast viewing and listening experience,” he said.“Next-Gen TV has more effective emergency alerting capabilities that will save more lives. Next-Gen TV integrates the best of broadcast and broadband to offer interactive content, such as dropdown menus and sports scores and movie information. Next-Gen TV enables the access to broadcast television through smartphones and tablets, ensuring that our local stations’ content is available virtually anywhere, anytime, and through any platform that viewers desire. Simply put, Next-Gen TV will enhance the ability of local broadcasters to impact the local communities we serve.”
In terms of transportation, both ride-sharing services and driverless cars proposals rely heavily on networks in order to function. Both of these sects of the transportation industry have resulted in large economic profits and have proven to save lives.
“Companies like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb would be unthinkable without the direct and immediate connections and data flows mobile networks give them and their customers. Together these three companies alone are valued at $98 billion dollars,” Entner said. “There is not a sector in the U.S. economy that won’t be improved by access to fast mobile broadband networks.”
Bergmann added, “Wireless-powered self-driving cars could reduce emissions by 40-90 percent, travel times by nearly 40 percent, and delays by 20 percent. That translates to $447 billion per year in savings and, more importantly, 21,700 lives saved.”
Besides the economic and societal benefits to opening spectrum channels, the panelists also shared their call-to-action steps for policymakers.
Many of the suggestions included ensuring timely access to new spectrum, modernizing infrastructure-siting policies, and helping to further streamline the approval process for new and existing cell sites.
The panelists made it clear that they are also looking for additional licensing opportunities for low, mid, and high frequency unlicensed bands, and that they should be allocated in larger channel sizes to satisfy growing demand.
According to Heiner, Congress should advance a balanced spectrum policy, that includes both licensed and unlicensed spectrum, as in done in the MOBILE NOW Act.
The MOBILE NOW Act gives the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) a deadline of Dec. 31, 2020 to make available at least 255 MHz of federal and nonfederal spectrum below the frequency of 6000 MHz for mobile and fixed wireless broadband use.
Throughout the hearing, Chairman Wicker said he tried to locate areas of the conversation where the panelists disagreed with each other on aspects of their overall stances. He said he struggled with this greatly because everyone was essentially in agreement.
“We have taken a significant bipartisan step towards freeing up spectrum for the next generation,” Wicker said. “ I hope to see Senate passage of the bill in the near future.”