The Future of Spectrum

Executive Summary

In recent years, growth in demand for wireless services has sparked a boom in the mobile phone and wireless data sector.[i] During the past four years, the number of mobile phone subscribers tripled,[ii] and the number of jobs in the telecommunications field has nearly quintupled.[iii] New, better, and faster mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones, have created multi-billion dollar industries of their own, such as Google Android and the Apple iOS “app stores.”[iv] And those technologies have contributed to the dawning of an always-on, always-connected culture.

But this growing demand for mobile Internet access requires a growing amount of wireless radio spectrum, portending serious problems for the future. At the moment, the United States has designated 547 MHz of spectrum to wireless broadband services, but the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) predicts a need for 637 MHz of spectrum by 2013, and 822 MHz of spectrum by 2014.[v] Without more spectrum allocated to wireless Internet connectivity, America risks short-circuiting the mobile broadband revolution.

The National Broadband Plan proposes a solution. It sets forth a detailed plan to make 300 MHz of spectrum available for wireless broadband use within the next five years, and another 200 MHz in the five years after that.[vi] It seeks to achieve this freeing of spectrum by auctioning unused spectrum, lifting burdensome regulations to enable wireless broadband service in certain spectrum ranges, and reallocating spectrum from other services – notably broadcast television – to enable such spectrum to be used for wireless broadband.[vii] Though many of these provisions are controversial, the FCC has already done serious work to achieve these goals. If the FCC can achieve its goals to enable the growth of wireless broadband, America will be able to unlock the full potential of the wireless broadband revolution and realize the potential of a new wave of American innovation.

[i] Federal Communications Commission, Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan 78 (2010) [hereinafter National Broadband Plan].

[ii] Id.

[iii] Lawrence H. Summers, Remarks on the President’s Spectrum Initiative As Prepared for Delivery (2010 June 28).

[iv] Robin Wauters, Report: Mobile App Market Will Be Worth $25 Billion By 2015 – Apple’s Share: 20 percent,, 2011 January 18,

[v] Federal Communications Commission, Mobile Broadband: The Benefits of Additional Spectrum 18 (2011) , available at (hereinafter Benefits of Additional Spectrum). [hereinafter Benefits of Additional Spectrum].

[vi] See National Broadband Plan, supra note 1, at 84.

[vii] Id.