Leroy Jones, Jr. is the creator of Talking Technology with Leroy Jones, Jr.

FCC: Brand New Hope

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Now that this year's Consumer Electronics Show is over, the tech press gets to engage in its favorite pastime of picking the show's winning products.  There's CNN's "Coolest Tech Products from CES," CNet's "Hottest Products" and Wired's "10 Sharpest Designs."


But this focus on neat designs and thin screens misses a bigger and more important issue: the rapidly accelerating use of "fifth generation" mobile broadband technology that underpins these revolutionary products.  Our national transformation to 5G is moving faster than even the most optimistic predictions a year ago. New mobile technology is powering advances from self-driving cars to connected health care.


This is important given next week's change in Administrations, particularly the FCC's coming leadership changes. The wireless marketplace is once again proving itself a dynamic and competitive industry that in 2015 alone attracted $32 billion in capital investment.


That investment translated into jobs - lots of jobs. According to a 2016 jobs survey, the mobile app economy last year employed 1.66 million Americans - or about the entire population of Philadelphia -- up from about 750,000 in 2013.


Hopefully, the magnitude of these numbers gives the new Administration's FCC appointees pause as they look to support the mobile economy. Continued growth in jobs and wireless investment is not preordained. In fact, if the capex numbers from 2016 are any indication, wireless investment actually dropped about 10% compared to 2015.


A major reason for this decline is almost certainly the FCC's 2015 decision to regulate mobile broadband like a public utility, a move that deserves an immediate burial, as Republican Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael Reilly have both urged.


But correcting mistakes made by the current FCC is only part of the solution.  The new FCC should focus on helping spur faster deployment of 5G mobile.  That means helping the industry, where possible, with the setting of 5G standards.  It means paying greater attention to reducing impediments to broadband deployment.


Most of all, it means becoming more of a partner to the mobile industry instead of trying to dictate to it.  That was the current FCC's key failing - specifically, a lack of appreciation for how technology and consumer demand are changing the mobile industry.


In December, the Center for Disease Control released figures showing that 49% of U.S. households are considered "wireless only," and nearly 65% are what the authors call "wireless mostly."


Clearly, the mobile revolution in the form of advanced 5G technology is poised to bring benefits across the country.  But this change still needs FCC help. New commissioners and staff should recognize the 5G promise and the benefits to be had from more cooperative policy stances.



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