Key Takeaways from ACTwireless’s Telephone Town Hall on Spectrum

5G, Spectrum

ACTwireless recently hosted a Telephone Town Hall with Meredith Attwell Baker, President and CEO of CTIA – The Wireless Association, and Tom Power, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at CTIA, to discuss the importance of wireless spectrum, its role in enabling wireless innovation, steps the wireless industry is taking to close the digital divide, and more.

There’s a lot riding on getting the policy around spectrum correct. Spectrum powers the wireless devices that we depend on to stay connected and, for many of us, that means access to education, increased public safety, and telehealth. Needless to say, we all use wireless and spectrum frequently every day.

The challenge is, as we are seeing increased wireless use and innovation, the demand for licensed, mid-band spectrum has skyrocketed, while simultaneously, the government let the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) authority to sell spectrum lapse. This lack of spectrum poses the biggest threat to the U.S.’s 5G leadership, potentially slowing new innovations that are modernizing cities, manufacturing, transportation, healthcare, and so much more.

During the live and interactive Telephone Town Hall event, we had a chance to hear from a few ACTwireless advocates and answer questions about spectrum:

“Why does the FCC need to license spectrum? Don’t we have plenty of it around so everyone can use it?”

There is enough if we use it properly, but because spectrum is a finite resource, we need to be thoughtful by conducting auctions for licensed spectrum.

Spectrum licenses are auctioned by the FCC to wireless providers to ensure its efficient use. Companies can use their purchased spectrum with protection from interference in their licensed areas. If the government didn’t manage the airways, we would see interference between competing users of spectrum. By conducting auctions to issue licenses, the FCC avoids this problem, allowing companies to use their spectrum to provide Americans with reliable wireless service. Not only does this process promote the most efficient use of spectrum, but fosters competition, innovation, and investment.

Creating practices to ensure efficient spectrum use is increasingly important as wireless innovation skyrockets, escalating the number of wireless devices that demand spectrum.

“My phone says that I have 5G and I can see that I have 5G in my house too because my phone company says I do, what does that mean?”

5G is a transformative technology, poised to enhance our lives, ensure safer communities, and boost our nation’s economic growth. With faster speeds, lower latency, and the ability to use more devices on the network than its predecessors, 5G is making our wireless devices future-proof.

This type of cutting-edge technology is paving the way for innovations like remote patient monitoring, remotely operated vehicles, developments in the Internet of Things (IoT), and much more.

Currently covering around 90% of the country, 5G is being rolled out faster than previous networks, bringing with it a wealth of untapped potential and exciting opportunities to meet the demand for connectivity.

“I just want my phone to work and my bill to be low. Are there any resources for affordable wireless plans?”

Affordability is key, as access to these cutting-edge innovations made possible by spectrum is limited if there are not programs in place to help close the digital divide. The competitive nature of the wireless industry is a positive aspect for consumers, as this results in decreased rates and increased affordability and accessibility.

Additionally, there are programs like the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which is a subsidy of $30 per month toward internet service for low-income households. Paired with the $30 plans that many wireless providers offer for low-income households, there are options for free services to the subscriber. So far, 19 million households (July, 2023) have signed up for this program, thus taking key strides to bridge the digital divide and ensure the benefits of wireless broadband are enjoyed by all Americans.

“I heard mid-band spectrum mentioned, what is that? What does mid-band mean?”

Spectrum is categorized into low-band, mid-band, and high-band, which have different characteristics. Low-band spectrum travels long distances well but is less powerful. In contrast, high-band spectrum doesn’t travel as far, but is more powerful, faster, and has lower latency, the time it takes for a signal to travel from your phone to the network and back. Mid-band spectrum is where we want auctions to take place, as it has good geographic coverage, fast speeds, and low latency, making wireless broadband as robust as it can be.

At ACTwireless, we advocate for access to the best wireless possible for all Americans, whether it’s increased access and availability, improved coverage, or new devices. Thanks to 5G and spectrum, we are seeing broadband improvement across the country and innovations in many sectors including healthcare, manufacturing, and agriculture that we never thought possible.

To ensure the future of wireless connectivity, Congress needs to prioritize licensed spectrum, which includes reauthorizing the FCC’s ability to auction spectrum coupled with additional access to licensed, mid-band spectrum.