Remarks by Senator Marco Rubio “A Wireless Innovation Agenda”
June 11, 2014
I want to start by thanking the team at 1776 for having me today and allowing me to discuss what I believe we must do as a nation to embrace and encourage the type of innovation occurring here and at similar incubators around the country.
Over the past couple of months, I have presented a vision for bringing America into the 21st century that involves updating the antiquated policies and institutions currently holding us back.
I have discussed three avenues of reform that will allow our economy to grow dramatically in this new century. The first is to expand the markets for American products and services by actively engaging in today’s global economy. The second is to make America the best place in the world to invest.
The third avenue is the one I want to focus on today, and that is the need for new policies that encourage bold innovation.
In the last two decades, American minds have continued to earn their reputation as the most creative and resourceful in the world. From the rise of personal computing, to the Internet, to the wireless revolution, our people have been at the helm of the technological transformation that has changed every industry in our economy and every sector of our society.
We need to keep it this way, and that will not happen on its own. Particularly if Washington continues to cling to the same policy ideas of a century that has come and gone.
Earlier this year, I visited Google’s headquarters a few blocks from here to discuss the importance of keeping the Internet free from government censorship and control, so that high-tech entrepreneurs like yourselves continue to have the freedom to develop online businesses and create real-world jobs. And, a few weeks ago, I visited Uber’s new DC headquarters to talk about the need to cut regulations that do nothing but protect established industries and discourage 21st century online innovations like ridesharing.
Today, I want to talk about spectrum reform. Our world has gone wireless, and it did not take long to occur. The mobile revolution has changed how we consume media and content, how we engage with friends and family, and how we learn about the world around us compared to only a few years ago.
We can see it with students in poor communities utilizing free Wi-Fi at their local McDonald’s to do homework. We can see it in telemedicine, like the mobile pediatric clinic launched last year in Miami that enables underserved local patients to consult with specialists from the University of Miami Health System using high-speed wireless broadband.
And thanks to advancements in sensors and software, as well as the growth in Wi-Fi, the next revolution is already occurring. The “Internet of Things” is becoming a reality. Consumers can preheat their oven or control their electricity with their phone on their way home from work.
While these types of advancements, and the pace at which they are occurring, are transforming our way of life, they are also leading to serious policy questions, including on issues such as privacy, cybersecurity, and patent abuse.
But there is one issue related to the mobile revolution that should need no debate, and that is the need to make more spectrum available to meet the current and future demands of the wireless economy.
All you have to do is look around at the devices being used today, the growth projections for data traffic, and the work being done to connect everything around us. The common denominator is spectrum. It is the lifeblood of the greatest innovations occurring today. If we do not make more available, future innovations will go unrealized, and our economy will miss out on the creation of tens, even hundreds of thousands of jobs.
That is why I am proposing a wireless innovation agenda with ideas that I believe will ensure the United States is prepared to face the wireless future – an agenda to ensure that Americans can participate in the wireless economy and take advantage of wireless technology to improve their economic well-being.
The first step is to make more spectrum available for commercial use. Congress, the FCC, and the current Administration must continuously look to put spectrum to its best use and make it available to the private sector whenever possible.
The federal government has to be forward thinking on this. We cannot wait until currently scheduled auctions are over. We need to have a series of auctions over several years to provide spectrum in a clear and predictable manner.
The Obama Administration has been working to identify spectrum for reallocation. That is good news, but we must do more. We have to take the next steps and reallocate that spectrum in order to promote innovation and expand broadband access.
And let me make one point clear: there is no question the government needs spectrum for services like public safety and national security. You can find the obvious example in my home state of Florida. More than 20 of our military bases are using wireless communications to conduct vital operations like launching satellites and conducting air combat training.
But spectrum is a finite public asset. We must ensure that it is being put to the best and most valuable use for the taxpayers. That is why important measures are in place to protect incumbent systems. It’s also why we have incentives such as using auction proceeds to upgrade equipment and improve spectrum use.
In addition to reallocating spectrum, we must also implement better transparency and accountability over federal spectrum use. Taxpayers will be better served when the government uses spectrum as efficiently as possible, and when that use is justified and the value of spectrum is clear.
The bottom line is that I believe the United States must pursue comprehensive solutions on wireless policy. So this week I am introducing the Wireless Innovation Act. This legislation:
- Reallocates 200 MHz of government spectrum for commercial use;
- Establishes an auction pipeline with staggered auctions starting in 2018;
- Incentivizes federal agencies to reallocate spectrum by allowing portions of the proceeds to be used or conducting research and development, as well cost and technical assessments on reallocating future spectrum bands;
- Requires an analysis of requests for new or modified frequency assignments to determine whether a commercial service could be used, whether federal users can share; and
- Requires NTIA to develop a framework to determine the commercial value of Federal spectrum.
I know there is disagreement over how to reallocate spectrum, and there are many ideas on improving federal spectrum use. This bill represents my entrance into the discussion, and I look forward to working on it with all who are interested.
The second step of my wireless agenda is promoting unlicensed spectrum for Wi-Fi. As we all know, Wi-Fi use is exploding. Unless we act fast, we'll leave consumers without the resources they need to power their increasingly Wi-Fi connected businesses, schools, and homes. Therefore we have to find solutions that expand Wi-Fi use where it makes sense, such as the 5 gigahertz band.
The FCC has already taken steps to free up the lower 5 gigahertz bands, but more must be done to expand Wi-Fi elsewhere in the band. In order to do that, we must test these systems. We must identify how Wi-Fi can coexist with incumbent systems, and we must solve for harmful interference.
We know that important work is being done by the automobile industry in the upper band. Vehicle to vehicle communications has great potential, and could dramatically improve vehicle safety. The growth of Wi-Fi and unlicensed use, combined with a decreasing amount of spectrum, mean that we have to determine how to utilize this spectrum as effectively as possible.
Does that mean sharing? Does that mean exclusive use? Or will Wi-Fi create too much interference? The answer is we don’t know. But the solution is not maintaining the status quo. The solution is not more studies.
That is why I will introduce legislation that directs the FCC to conduct testing in this band and modify its rules to allow Wi-Fi use – if the testing shows that there is not harmful interference to incumbent systems.
This bill sets a timeline and a structure for an evidenced-based decision that will happen rapidly enough to address this fast moving problem. I'm concerned that if we leave government agencies to their own devices, we'll be in exactly the same place a year from now. That's not good enough. There are a lot of smart people working on this issue. Let’s get them together and work it out. Let’s engineer a solution.
And that brings me to the third and final component of this wireless agenda. I have talked about the need to reallocate spectrum for commercial wireless use, and I have explained why I believe we need to expand Wi-Fi availability. Neither of these goals can be achieved if there is not sufficient wireless infrastructure in place.
Mobile data traffic is growing exponentially. The Internet of Things will be a reality. Therefore, data has to move faster, and coverage and capacity have to increase. That means more wireless infrastructure is needed.
Government at all levels should not be a barrier to deployment. Confusing statutes and outdated local rules and regulations should not stand in the way of deploying infrastructure or modifying wireless facilities.
A small cell should not be subject to the same requirements as a tower. Modifications to a wireless facility should not be subjected to the same rules as when the facility was built. Local governments should not use review processes to extract fees – they should be used to expedite deployment and connect citizens to 21st century communications.
I was a city commissioner in West Miami. I know how challenging it can be for local governments to move as quickly as providers would like. And I know that each city and town have their priorities and ways of doing business. But I also know that some of these processes are delaying deployment. Despite ubiquitous usage of wireless services, there are not ubiquitous rules and regulations for deployment.
And the delays are not unique to local governments. Not surprisingly Washington also has a role. Wireless service providers have to contend with disparate federal agency procedures for siting facilities on federal property. Despite Congress enacting a provision requiring the General Services Administration to develop and implement a common application form and contract to reduce the burden this places on providers, that solution has not happened. This is a great example of Washington not being up to speed with the wireless industry.
For all of these reasons, I will also introduce legislation to promote the deployment of wireless infrastructure. This legislation will require action to complete the common application for deployment on federal lands and facilities, and it will update current law to account for today’s non-tower structures and co-location of wireless facilities.
As I stated at the beginning of my remarks, the world is going wireless. The revolution is going to continue. You can look around in this building and know that is a fact.
So the question is what is the federal government going to do? Are we going to be slow to respond and rely on outdated policies that will inhibit innovation? Or are we going to put the right statutory and regulatory framework in place that will further the mobile revolution? I hope it is the latter.