Smart consumers are quick to recognize when specific technologies can benefit them. Here in the Seattle area, we have a lot of these tech-savvy individuals; certainly many were drawn to this region partly for our booming tech sector.
But no matter where they live, such “early adopter” types take on new technologies and sophisticated devices at an incredible pace. They quickly learn how to maximize the benefits of those innovations, and they use them to accomplish tasks, find information, solve problems, and, of course, to communicate—often while out and about.
And in turn, these in-the-know consumers help fuel demand, leading to continued innovation and enabling the development of more electronics and devices that benefit all kinds of people, including those who might be described as something other than tech-savvy.
We’ve all seen this evolution of technology and the resulting increased demand play out again and again, and from our position in the Pacific Northwest, we can see and experience this cycle from the front row.
But even though the majority of consumers throughout the country understand how to use and benefit from a variety of devices and technologies, not many people grasp the key role that regulations play or the importance of emerging technologies that can transform our lives in real and important ways.
Rules that prioritize and favor continued maintenance of obsolete networks remain in place, hindering investment and innovation into new and evolving technologies.
Of course, I’m referring to the outdated and old-fashioned “Plain Old Telephone Service” network, which still exists but which only 5 percent of Americans still rely upon exclusively, largely because this network—cutting edge one hundred years ago—can’t possibly support the services, speeds, and innovations of today’s broadband world.
This issue is important to us all, for a couple of reasons. First, though it might seem like requiring telecommunications companies to pour money into this old infrastructure doesn’t affect consumers and end users all that much, the fact is that this maintenance is expensive, and becoming more so every year as manufacturers stop making outdated parts and the service personnel who worked on these networks retire.
That money could be better spent developing technologies and enhancing the broadband networks that consumers prefer to use, and that new technicians are learning to install.
Second, without the proper modern network infrastructure in place to support the innovations that we all want, tech progress slows down, and so does the economic growth that results when investment into cutting-edge tech is encouraged. Prioritizing next-generation networks by encouraging companies to invest in only those networks can pave the way to continued innovation.
The good news here is that the FCC recently decided to allow beta testing trials of 21st century broadband-enabled networks in limited areas, signaling their support for the move forward to an all-broadband future. Such trials are a crucial opportunity for regulators, industry leaders, and consumers to work together and to ensure consumer protections.
This decision may, in fact, usher in a new era of modern regulations that incentivize investment and innovation, bringing more benefits and essential devices to consumers; I certainly hope so.
The upcoming spectrum incentive auction that can provide much needed spectrum to help fuel our love of smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices constitutes another test and an opportunity: Fair and open bidding rules, which are currently being debated, will foster competition and allow carriers to obtain much-needed spectrum, which they can use to meet demand. Some are proposing that the government tilt the scale and favor a couple of carriers, while disadvantaging the rest with burdensome restrictions.
All carriers should be allowed the equal opportunity to competitively bid for the spectrum they need to serve their consumers. In any case, these regulatory decisions have a real impact on our tech sector, on the pace of innovation, and on consumers and our communities.
What’s at stake is more than just the availability of shiny, fun new gadgets that consumers want. The real issue here is whether we will have access to the next-generation technological capabilities, services, and devices that we all need. Last month, I had the opportunity to learn more about some of the real-world applications of broadband connectivity at two different PacTech events.
At an mHealth event, Dr. Elena Rios of the National Hispanic Medical Association explained that Latinos, other minority communities, and indeed, anyone can benefit from mobile technologies that help patients receive cost-effective care (often at home), collaborate with medical professionals, and benefit from improved health and wellness.
Separately, Dr. George Ford of the Phoenix Center discussed how a nationwide, interoperable public safety network can improve communication between first responders and law enforcement officers. Such an infrastructure can improve response times, facilitate coordination and rescue efforts, alert the general public about threats, and help communities stay safe during emergencies.
In fact, Congress has mandated the construction of this public safety network, known as FirstNet, which would be funded in part by the spectrum auction proceeds.
These are only two examples: Clearly, broadband connectivity, both wired and wireless, offers countless benefits to us all. These resulting benefits can enhance our lives by offering opportunities for entertainment, education, communication, and professional development.
But the benefits don’t end there, and they don’t extend only to the tech-savvy: The essential network of this century can deliver vital possibilities for everyone.
Adopting smart rules that encourage investment into this network can bring more opportunities and benefits to us all, in the form of continued innovations that last century’s networks cannot possibly deliver.
Tom Gurr is the executive director of the Pacific Technology Alliance, an advocacy group that promotes policies to foster competition, innovation, increased choice and access to technology.