Football analogies may be in poor form in Washington, D.C. these days as the Washington Redskins flounder. But when I think about one of the biggest challenges we face in meeting the broadband needs of this nation - lack of available spectrum for mobile broadband -- I think of Doug Flutie.
Doug Flutie was a quarterback in both the Canadian and National Football Leagues. Flutie was a great quarterback. He had a lot of great attributes.
But he was 5' 10". And while he had some great moments, let's face it, he was destined to be a star… in Canadian football. He had a career very different from that of 6'2' Joe Montana, 6'4' Tom Brady, or 6'5' "Big Ben" Roethlisberger of Pittsburgh.
The point is this: Unless we get more spectrum, we as a country are destined to be the Doug Flutie of mobile broadband.
Spectrum is like height. If you don't have it, it's pretty hard to be in the big leagues. As they say, you can't coach height.
Now it's not an exact analogy. Technology and other capital inputs can help overcome the lack of spectrum.
But let's not kid ourselves. Lack of spectrum will mean that our mobile service will be more expensive and of a poorer quality than if we had more of it. And that's very bad news unless we figure out a way to solve that problem.
Why? Mobile broadband is going to be the fastest growing segment in communications ecosystem. The 75,000 iPhone applications show us a huge pent up demand to do things to do things based on where you are, to do things no matter where you are.
And AT&T projects that by 2018 mobile data traffic expand by a factor of 250 to 600.
This is potentially a fantastic story for America. It's the story of an America where citizens have access to information everywhere, and where entrepreneurs have the opportunity to reach consumers in ways never before possible, were no one has to be a prisoner of geography.
And, this story becomes even greater as we enter the era of pervasive computing, where devices and machines of every kind become "smart" by virtue of the wireless connections to the Internet.
But none of this can happen without spectrum.
The wireless industry says we need 800 Mhz more. How much is in the pipeline now? 50 MHz. And it's not very good spectrum for mobile broadband.
Moreover, it takes an average of 6 to 13 years to clear spectrum. For example, in the Clinton years we sold about 198 Mhz. During the last administration, we sold about 276 MHz.
What does that mean?
A few years ago, the Congressional Research Service concluded that "American competitiveness in advanced wireless technology may be constrained by the limited amount of exploitable bandwidth that is available."
So the challenge over the next 110 days we have to develop a National Broadband Plan is to understand the tough trade-offs, come up with creative options, and produce a plan that can truly help deliver all the fantastic opportunities that mobile broadband can provide. Touchdown!