As my colleague Rick Boucher has already stated, the spectrum-related initiatives President Obama announced this morning are a “great step” toward getting mobile broadband providers the airwaves they need in order to meet the demands of their customers. That’s the first nugget of good news.
The second nugget of good news, which was also included in this morning’s announcement, is the White House’s report on the state of broadband, which highlights just how far our country has come in providing high-speed Internet access to citizens. Some bullet points from the report:
• In the year 2000, 4.4% of American households had a home connection to broadband; by 2010 that number had jumped to 68%.
• Broadband networks at a baseline speed of >10 megabits per second now reach more than 94% of U.S. homes.
• Overall, average delivered broadband speeds have doubled since 2009. In 2012, North America’s average mobile data connection speed was 2.6 Mbps, the fastest in the world, nearly twice that available in Western Europe, and over five times the global average.
• Annual investment in U.S. wireless networks grew more than 40% between 2009 and 2012, from $21 billion to $30 billion, and exceeds investment by the major oil and gas or auto companies; investment in European wireless networks remained flat during this time period, while wireless investment in Asia (including China) rose only 4%.
• There are over 500 million Internet-connect devices now in American homes and businesses.
Those are some impressive numbers, especially on the investment front, and they underscore just how vibrant and competitive the U.S. wireless market really is.
The numbers also tell us that in order to keep the party lights on, the Federal Communications Commission must pursue policies that encourage investment and innovation. Currently the FCC has two issues burning up its docket. The first is the upcoming spectrum incentive auctions, which need to be transparent and open in order to get the most out of those airwaves. Competition is important – which is already occurring in the telecom market – and so is raising as much money as possible for the U.S. Treasury. Also, we need to ensure companies that can quickly put new spectrum to work powering mobile broadband are in the mix.
The other issue facing the FCC is the upgrade of America’s wired networks so they are better suited for the Internet age. While the baseline speed of >10 megabits per second cited in the White House’s report is good, we can do better. The upgrade to all-Internet based networks will mean substantially faster broadband in more places, but getting there will require substantial investment. It will also mean a close examination — and potential overhaul — of regulations currently governing our nation’s networks.
Neither of these issues is insurmountable, but it will take continued partnership between the government and private industry to keep America at the forefront of both wired and mobile broadband. The numbers in the White House report are encouraging. The President’s push to free up more government spectrum is inspiring. Smart policies when it comes to spectrum auctions and network upgrades will help us hit the trifecta.