U.S. needs to bump up its data plan

Dorothy Rothrock
Dorothy Rothrock

Californians are well aware of our water crisis, but there is another looming resource shortage few know about that could have serious implications for our economy.

While impossible to see or touch, the wireless spectrum is a necessity to many things we take for granted in our daily lives. The radio frequencies transmit various kinds of data and are used by our garage door openers, baby monitors and most prominently by smartphones.

Yet as more and more devices connect to the Internet and Americans use more wireless data than ever before, we put significant strain on our wireless networks. Annual wireless data usage increased 176 percent in a mere two years, according to industry reports. One estimate predicts that by 2020, an astonishing 44 zettabytes of data (1 zettabyte is equivalent to 1 trillion gigabytes) will be exchanged between tens of billions of connected devices.

In California, where more than 1 million people work in the tech industry, dwarfing other states, our wireless usage is even higher and our dependence on it even greater. Many say we as a nation are now at or near capacity, and that we will need more frequencies, as well as creative new ideas to use existing spectrum to meet our growing appetite for everything mobile.

Thankfully, the solution cannot be clearer. Federal officials must make more of the wireless spectrum available for commercial purposes.

Our government still controls most of the best spectrum that could be used to meet consumer and business demand. While Congress, the Obama administration and regulators have all recognized the need, only marginal progress has been made to bring more spectrum to market.

Lawmakers should use what time is left in the congressional calendar to develop a consensus to free up more spectrum and increase spectrum efficiency. They have held hearings in both the Senate and House, and Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, has authored a leading piece of legislation on the matter.

But action and talk are two different things. Without action, the mobile devices and services we depend on could be affected by the sheer volume of mobile data.

We know that spectrum scarcity is not something one reads about daily yet, but it will be if policymakers fail to make meaningful progress on this issue soon.

Dorothy Rothrock is president of the California Manufacturers & Technology Association.