Give the Obama Administration credit. While it has struggled to manage a number of important issues through first year and a half in office and drawn the ire of many Americans for some policy decisions, the White House has proven to be the most tech savvy edition of the executive branch this country has ever seen.
We saw the beginnings of this in 2008 when then-Senator Obama’s team instituted technology across many components of his presidential campaign that boosted both support and voter turnout. That trend has continued since his election with a ‘wired’ White House that is on the cutting edge.
As such, it’s no stretch to say that this Administration recognizes both the importance and potential that technology holds for the American economy and way of life.
And yesterday, the President took a big step towards securing technology’s role in the country’s future, instructing the federal government to nearly double the nation’s broadband capacity over the next ten years.
In an executive memorandum, Obama ordered federal agencies to identify approximately 500 megahertz of spectrum currently held by government or private entities that can be freed up to expand mobile broadband capabilities. Wireless companies currently have only about 547 megahertz allotted for use. At a time when consumers are clamoring for smartphones, tablet computers and other wireless devices, the increased broadband capacity is an absolute must, as AT&T’s recent network problems illustrate.
Obama’s proposal, which resembles a plan rolled out by the FCC a few months ago, is being touted by the Administration as the most ambitious effort ever undertaken by the federal government to free up broadband spectrum. With both short- and long-term capacity issues in mind, the hope is that a presidential endorsement on top of the FCC’s efforts back in March will be the final nudge needed to fully address the nation’s broadband concerns.
Approximately 44 percent (220 of the 500 megahertz) of the spectrum that the President is targeting is currently under the control of government agencies like NASA and the FAA. Such groups would be unlikely to turn over their spectrum without a fight, making Obama’s order all the more important.
The majority of available spectrum however, is held privately, and will be allocated for use on a voluntary basis. The Administration has suggested using spectrum auctions to compensate television broadcasting companies and other private groups for handing over their unused broadband spectrum to help facilitate the process.
However the process plays out, there’s no denying that more broadband spectrum is needed. Obama’s top economic advisor Lawrence Summers echoed the warnings first given by the FCC last year of an impending “spectrum crunch” if no action is taken. Summers referenced a host of statistics forecasting that traffic on wireless networks could grow by as much as 250 percent a year, with estimates for an even bigger demand for wireless data in the next five years.
With Obama and the FCC teaming up now to push for further broadband capability, the ball is now in the court of those entities holding the spectrum that is needed to make the plan a reality. We’ll follow this story as more details emerge. In the meantime, as always, we welcome your comments.