America Needs More Commercial Wireless Spectrum Yesterday...And That's Not Soon Enough

What is the best hope for equality in America?

If there's a North Star, it is technology and especially wireless - the first of any kind of technology in which African Americans and Latinos are the leaders in adoption and informed use. Being a jump ahead of the nation in wireless, people of color stand a chance to close the enormous gaps in entrepreneurship, employment, education, health care and civic engagement.

What drives wireless growth in our information age economy is an intangible: spectrum. It is spectrum that fuels consumer wireless' $400 billion in annual economic activity. It is spectrum that makes possible the 1.3 million jobs wireless directly supports and the 8.5 million jobs it indirectly supports.

When we use cellphones and a host of high devices such as smartphones and tablets, we're using enormous quantities of spectrum. Americans are adopting these devices with breathtaking speed and enthusiasm. By 2019, mobile data traffic is predicted to be nearly six times what it was in 2014. Much of this growth in wireless traffic will be driven by "the under-served" - the rural, minority and low-income consumers who need state-of-the-art technology to catch up to the rest of America in education, employment, health care and civic engagement.

In March 2016, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will hold the largest auction in the world's history - the March 2016 "DTV Incentive Auction," to arrange for the deployment of underutilized digital television spectrum for use by wireless consumers.

That will help a lot to overcome the huge gap between spectrum supply and consumer demand, but it won't be enough: the nation will still need far more spectrum to maintain our wireless infrastructure. Where will this additional spectrum come from?

The answer is U.S. government departments, such as Defense and Agriculture. Federal departments hold enormous amounts of spectrum that they don't need - spectrum that could be repurposed for consumer wireless.

Understandably, no one - private citizens or government departments - likes to have to give up a prized possession. But the shortage of spectrum for commercial wireless is a genuine crisis waiting to happen. It's in the national interest to make sure that the digital economy has the fuel it needs to continue to provide American consumers with fast, efficient service.

On Wednesday, Congress took a first step forward in setting the stage for the allocation of 30 MHz of additional spectrum, but based on consumer demand, much more is needed. Congress should further act and do what the national interest requires: enact legislation to incentivize government agencies to inventory their spectrum and allow the FCC to auction off spectrum that government agencies don't need. Spectrum legislation would preserve our greatest economic and job-creating engine, and it would make sure that our nation can fulfill the promise of equality through ubiquitous technology.