The wireless industry scored a philosophical victory on Thursday night when President Obama framed cell phone firms' top priorities as ways to cut unemployment.
The White House has long argued in favor of proposals that could move the nation away from broadcast technology to cellular phones and tablets, framing them as sound economic policy. Such measures, the argument goes, will produce immediate revenue for the government—for instance as proceeds from auctioning off broadcast frequencies—and will help the country thrive in a time when commerce depends on wireless Internet access.
Congress must approve the spectrum auctions, which would be designed to entice television stations into going out of business, selling their share of the airwaves and taking the cash. Wireless companies are still pushing hard to move a bill this session, but various legislative efforts have fizzled.
Thursday night, however, wireless industry lobbyists are having a good night. When Obama pitched lawmakers on swiftly passing the American Jobs Act, he made their job a lot easier.
He’s now framed incentive auctions as a jobs-creating measure, not just a way to reduce the deficit. If the argument sticks, it could help win congressional approval. He’s also made clear that Internet access is part of the nation’s infrastructure, akin to roads and bridges, as well as key to improving schools.
The wireless proposal amounts to a "deficit reducing plan to deploy high-speed wireless services to at least 98 percent of Americans, including those in more remote rural communities, while freeing up spectrum through incentive auctions, spurring innovation, and creating a nationwide, interoperable wireless network for public safety," the White House says in a statement.
The proposal in Obama's plan seems to assume that incentive auctions will raise about $28 billion. This is more than the Congressional Budget Office predicted when it scored a similar plan from Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. Obama's bill devotes $10 billion to building out a nationwide public safety network for police and firefighters, a longtime goal of the White House and key congressional leaders, including Rockefeller. The overview assumes that auctions will provide $18 billion for deficit reduction after paying for the network.
The wireless industry was quick to approve. It has, after all, have been trying to credibly place incentive auctions in the jobs debate all year.
“We applaud the President’s recognition of the crucial role mobile broadband can play in spurring job growth and boosting the nation’s economy.” Jonathan Spalter, chairman of Mobile Future, a group with AT&T as a major member, said in a statement after the speech. Spalter, citing recent data, said the policy would create 500,000 new jobs.