My now-husband gave me my first cell phone for my birthday in 2001.  He had been an early adopter of such technologies, so had a cell phone for several years.  I wasn’t sure I really needed one, but especially in the post-9/11 emergency atmosphere, it seemed worth having just in case. 

That’s really not so long ago, but seems almost another world in terms of technology given how much has changed.  Our almost ten-year-old daughter today believes it is a mildly form of cruelty that she has yet to have her own phone, when so many of her friends already have them.  Stories of life before mobile devices, email, text messages, and cell phones should as quant to her as tales of life before automobiles did to me when I was a child. 

These technologies are so ubiquitous today that it is easy to take for granted their existence and presume that progress—better, faster, smaller, more efficient, creative communication platforms—is a given.  But it’s not, of course, and we ought to appreciate some of the infrastructure that serves as the foundation for these technologies and for future development.

This new report highlights how spectrum that is licensed through the Federal Communications Commission is used by the wireless industry to create the networks that connect our telecommunications and mobile devices.  No surprise, the wireless industry has had a huge positive impact on the economy:  Not only is the wireless industry a major employer, but its operations generate other jobs, at an estimated rate of about 6.5 people finding employment based on each person working in the wireless industry.  You can read more about the economic wireless boom here.

Yet the problem is that the wireless industry is facing a shortage of spectrum, which could impede continued innovation and make it more difficult for the industry to meet the growing demand for their services.  The FCC plans to make more some additional spectrum available at auction (which will generate considerable funds for the Treasury) but that still won’t be enough to meet the full demand. 

How should government make decisions about which entities deserve the right to buy more spectrum?  This paper argues: 

The challenge to spectrum managers in this environment is to ensure that each spectrum band is put to its highest and best social and economic use. This requires understanding the value to society for each use.

This is a sensible criteria.  Certainly some spectrum needs to be reserved for security purposes (emergency responders and vital military applications) but the FCC then ought to be seeking to make more spectrum available to those who are most willing to pay most for it at auction, which will be the ones that pack the most economic punch. 

This isn’t an issue that one commonly reads or hears about, but Americans have a real interest in encouraging sensible government policies that help fuel our continuing technological revolution.