Three cheers (almost!) for Tom Power, the President’s Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Telecommunications. Speaking recently at an event hosted by the Georgetown Center for Business & Public Policy, Power crystallized the Administration’s focus on improving access to the wireless web.
As the President who assembled “the most technologically sophisticated campaign in history” and who’ll doubtless rely on that expertise in 2012, it’s not surprising that this issue is on President Obama’s radar.
More generally, the link between broadband availability and economic opportunity is driving the President’s push to expand national high-speed access. As National Urban League president Marc Morial said earlier this month, “broadband access [is] much too low and joblessness much too high in communities of color.”
In his speech, Power picked up on this need to expand broadband, stressing the Administration’s commitment to resolving the looming “spectrum crunch.” That’s the phrase that FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has repeatedly used to describe the urgent need for government action to make more airwaves available for wireless users.
As a blogger at Motley Fool put it recently, without more airwaves to meet the rising demand, “customers can expect dropped connections, rising prices and generally lousy service.”
Power noted that the Administration is pushing hard to deliver on the ambitious goals of its National Broadband Plan, including opening a huge swath of airwaves for wireless communication. (For the techno-savvy, that’s 500 MHz.)
Beyond that, he emphasized that the Administration is ramping up joint efforts with the wireless industry on near-term solutions that will spur job-creating investment.
Power’s speech was good to hear, but it was also a reminder that the Administration needs to give itself permission to go all out and not “half step” in opening up more spectrum to expand wireless communications. A less than charitable Politico article recently claimed that the President’s wireless policy has been “stuck in the slow lane.” Progress is progress, but in this case, the government needs to proceed at nano-speed to keep up with the rapid pace of wireless innovation to ensure that Americans have access to all of the benefits wireless brings.
According to a recent report, the wireless industry directly or indirectly supports 3.8 million jobs and pays wages 65% higher than the national average. Beyond job creation, it is transforming our lives (education, healthcare, politics) with stunning swiftness.
In 2011, the number of wireless subscriber connections in the U.S. (323 million) surpassed the population (316 million). In many rural and underserved areas, wireless is the best, most affordable option for web access. That’s almost certainly why the President last year made wireless the centerpiece of his goal to bring broadband access to 98% of Americans.
But the digital divide persists. According to a National Urban League report this month, while the gap is narrowing, the broadband adoption rate in African American households is still only 56% compared to 67% for whites. That gap widens noticeably, however, among those without a high school diploma (38% for African Americans vs. 51% for whites).
The President’s goal is admirable—indeed, I share it—and Tom Power’s speech was a good reminder of all the Administration is doing to promote wireless. But in reaffirming the Administration’s goals for wireless, we should also remember that the government needs to work harder and work faster to ensure that its actions fulfill its promises and our needs.
- Maurita Coley, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of MMTC, is the former Executive Director of Capital Area Asset Builders and a former Partner at the Davis Wright Tremaine Law and Cole Raywid & Braverman law firms. She earned her law degree from Georgetown Law where she was a recipient of the 2011 Paul R. Dean Award, and she holds a BA in Communications from Michigan State University. Coley served on the BET executive management team in the 1990’s.