Op-eds and Articles

Washington Monthly: For More and Better Choices in Wireless Broadband, Government Should Give Up More Spectrum

By / 11.17.2015

“Buy land,” Will Rogers is famous for having said, “They’re not making any more of it.” But the same constraint applies to a similar resource – electromagnetic spectrum, the real estate on which the economy’s future will be built. This week, the powerful Senate Commerce Committee will take steps in addressing this modern-day conundrum. And the end result could lead to a more competitive Internet while helping to meet the Obama Administration’s goal of closing the “digital divide.”

Spectrum is the range of radio waves that can carry mobile signals – voice, image, data, whatever you want, digitally morphed. And like the land that supports structures, spectrum supports our phones and their apps, remote education and healthcare, environmental monitoring, security and law enforcement, mobile entertainment, games, and other amusements, as well as the burgeoning “Internet of things,” from driverless cars to refrigerators that order groceries.

These innovations (which support 1.3 million jobs and $400 billion in annual economic activity, according to The Brattle Group) come so rapidly and pervasively that we often forget that it is spectrum that allows them to exist. Like land, there is only so much of it – the physical world provides only so wide a range of radio wave frequencies. But in the same way that skyscrapers make better use of land, technology that allows improvements in signal strength and compression make better use of spectrum over time.

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