In First Major Speech as CTIA Head, Baker Calls for More Licensed Spectrum

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By Paul Barbagallo

Sept. 9 — In her first major speech as president and chief executive officer of CTIA-The Wireless Association, Meredith Attwell Baker strongly urged federal policy makers to free up more licensed spectrum for use in mobile broadband networks.

Baker focused her opening keynote address at CTIA's Super Mobility Week in Las Vegas almost entirely on spectrum policy, which has been a front-line issue for the trade group for the past five years.

“4G can be directly linked to the successful [spectrum] auctions in 2006 and 2008, which have helped enable much of the innovation we see today,” Baker said, responding to assertions by industry analysts and other critics who say that wireless carriers may decide to “sit out” Federal Communications Commission-held auctions. “The wireless industry showed up to those auctions in [2006 and 2008] with $32 billion. All in all, wireless carriers have paid $53 billion to purchase spectrum.”

A former junior Republican member of the Federal Communications Commission who took the helm at CTIA this summer, Baker has begun her tenure at the trade group at a time when both the FCC and the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration are carrying out an ambitious Obama administration plan to double her industry's supply of wireless spectrum by 2020. Later this year, the FCC plans to auction off the 2155-2180 MHz and 1755-1780 MHz bands, also known as the AWS (Advanced Wireless Services)-3 band, and in 2015, the agency will conduct the much-anticipated incentive auctions that were authorized as part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act (Pub. L. No. 112-96).

Baker said that while these two auctions are a “great start,” the industry will need more licensed spectrum.

“In 2008, the government started calling for 500 MHz of new commercial spectrum. Since then, mobile broadband demand has grown 51 times,” she said. “Consumer demand for tablets, wearables, mobile video and the Internet of Things will only put more pressure on our networks. That means we need more exclusive, cleared use spectrum. That's how we became 4G leaders and that's how we'll stay on top.”

While CTIA, as the wireless industry's major trade association, has long advocated a spectrum policy that prioritizes auctioning spectrum, Baker said that the debate too often presents “false choices”—either licensing spectrum or keeping spectrum unlicensed.

“Given the demand, given the growth, given our connected lives, the answer must be ‘all of the above,’ ” Baker said.

Wheeler to CTIA: Show Up for Auctions

Also delivering keynote remarks at the Super Mobility Week, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler called on CTIA's members to participate in the agency's auctions, which he suggested would lay to rest arguments by TV broadcasters that the demand for spectrum is inflated.

“Whether or not wireless carriers show up with sufficient demand to incent broadcasters to participate is something only you control,” Wheeler said. “But, if that is the case, if mobile operators don't put their money where their mouths have been, the future of spectrum policy will begin to look a lot different.

“We are heartened by AT&T Inc.’s and Dish Network Corp.’s strong expressions of interest in the Incentive Auction,” Wheeler added. “We saw reports of big interest and big numbers being tossed around when Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile US Inc. wanted to bid jointly. The rest of the industry, however, has been strangely silent.”

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