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Let’s work together to keep ‘spectrum highway’ humming

Reposted with Permission from Great Fall Tribune. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

By Tom Gurr

April 13, 2012

The word “congestion” doesn’t often come to mind when one thinks of Montana.

Montana has wide-open spaces and wide-open highways, from Great Falls to Helena, from Bozeman to Billings, from Butte to Missoula. While a backup on your highways is a pretty rare event, there is a major traffic jam forming, only it’s not on your physical highways. It’s a virtual traffic jam on our nation’s wireless networks.

Something called “spectrum” is the highway that allows mobile voice and data traffic to move. As more and more people adopt smartphones and tablets that are data-hungry?downloading movies, games and apps, the lanes of the spectrum highway get more and more congested. To keep the spectrum highway open to data traffic, we need to open those closed lanes?that is, free up more spectrum.

This invisible but real impending traffic jam could have serious consequences for Montana and the rest of the country. Wireless network data traffic increased 111 percent from mid-year 2010 to mid-year 2011, according to a recent survey. This demand in wireless data has been driven by popular options available through personal mobile devices, such as downloading videos, streaming music or using your favorite GPS or entertainment application.

With a spectrum crunch, Montanans who use mobile devices to connect to the Internet could face severe delays in download speeds, degraded quality of service, and more dropped calls.

A sufficient supply of spectrum is needed in order for network providers to continue to build out upgraded, reliable wireless networks in Montana. And this investment in the expansion of wireless networks and services is a critical factor in driving economic growth and creating jobs. Across the country, upgrading to a new generation of network technologies created nearly 1.6 million jobs over four years. As wireless companies build out the newest 4G technology, that build out will help create over 230,000 new American jobs this year alone, according to a recent study by NDN, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

So if the problem is a congested highway, why not just pave new “lanes” of spectrum? Well, unfortunately, spectrum can’t be created.

Spectrum is a limited resource, which needs to be used as efficiently as possible. Luckily, this is something Sen. Max Baucus understands very well.

Sen. Baucus recently led a congressional effort to approve voluntary “incentive auctions” of spectrum that government would identify and reallocate for high-speed mobile broadband.

Much of the spectrum being freed up for this purpose would come from television broadcasters who would voluntarily return spectrum to the government for auction for monetary compensation, while other spectrum would be repurposed from government agencies for commercial use. Sen. Baucus should be applauded for his leadership on this effort.

The auctions would be an important part of the solution for heading off the looming spectrum crisis. Wireless service providers would be permitted to buy this underutilized spectrum through competitive bidding. Freeing up this spectrum will help meet mobile consumers’ needs by helping to alleviate the data traffic jam and improve their wireless experience.

While these incentive auctions aren’t the entire answer to the spectrum crisis and the impending data traffic jam, they are a vital first step in the right direction. We encourage Montanans to thank Sen. Baucus and to encourage our lawmakers to find ways to free up more spectrum ? so our “spectrum highway” is as free-running as the interstate highways of Big Sky Country.

Tom Gurr is executive director of the Pacific Technology Alliance, an Issaquah, Wash.-based nonprofit organization that works to educate citizens and policy makers about emerging technology issues.

Reposted with Permission from Great Fall Tribune. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

Categories Rural Access | Tags: | Posted on June 5, 2012

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