President calls for more wireless spectrum

The federal government controls huge blocks of spectrum that are reserved for military, police, weather and all sorts of agencies. On June 14, the president released a memo calling for the government to share of this spectrum with commercial developers. And, the White House aims to invest $100 million in spectrum and other communications.

“Although existing efforts will almost double the amount of spectrum available for wireless broadband,” wrote Obama, “we must make available even more spectrum and create new avenues for wireless innovation."

Plans have been under way for an auction of commercial spectrum owned by TV and radio, and to sell that airspace to wireless carriers. But already that move is seen as insufficient. “Our traditional three-step process for reallocating federal spectrum — clearing federal users, relocating them and then auctioning the cleared spectrum for new use — is reaching its limits," said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

At the same time, the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy and The National Economic Council released a new report, Four Years of Broadband Growth which detailed both the overall growth of the Internet and the shortcomings of national broadband policy.

As the report notes, “While broadband access and speed have grown significantly over the last four years, significant areas for improvement remain, as the FCC has documented. Moreover, many markets are subject to at most limited competition among broadband providers.”

There has indeed been a rapid growth of home broadband. From a mere 4.4 percent in 2000 to 68.2 percent in 2010. But, “Despite the advances in broadband coverage – particularly considering the United States’ size and geography – adoption is lower than in some nations with comparable Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita.”

The reason is primarily class differences.

“For example,” says the report, “home broadband adoption among those with at least a college degree (88%) is more than double that of those who did not complete high school (35%); 50 percentage points separate broadband use of households with annual incomes exceeding $100,000 from those with incomes below $25,000 (93% compared to 43%).”

And, “The second most common reason cited for lack of broadband adoption is affordability. In 2011, 28 percent of non-adopting households did not have broadband service at home primarily because of the expense of Internet service, an increase of four percentage points above 2010 data.”

Certainly, the administration has put resources into improving connectivity of lower-income Americans. The Recovery Act steered $6.9 billion into upgrading of infrastructure including  public computer centers broadband adoption programs, as well as aid to the schools and libraries.

But making available more spectrum will only marginally improve access by those currently left out of the digital economy. Speed matters believes that programs designed to bring broadband – especially wired broadband – to low-income and rural Americans should be at the top of the agenda.

Obama wants government to free up more wireless spectrum (Reuters, Jun. 14, 2013)

Obama orders agencies to free up frequencies (The Hill, Jun. 14, 2013)

Four Years of Broadband Growth (White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and The National Economic Council, Jun., 2013)