When it comes to infrastructure, America has always dreamed and built big. For centuries, we have worked to connect the corners of our country, filling in colonies and territories and forging our way to the coasts. In the 19th century, we built railroads across the face of the country, connecting our main cities and our coasts for the first time. In the 20th century, a comprehensive interstate highway system was established, creating an abundance of jobs and underpinning a new age of American prosperity.
Today, infrastructure impacts every facet of our lives. Our highways, airports, and bridges help connect us as a society, providing us with opportunities for trade, mobility, market growth, collaboration, and much more.
Historically, infrastructure has developed in response to consumer demand. Demand remains the key driver today. In 2017, meeting our infrastructure demand requires supporting digital networks, which will provide commercial, social, and industrial connections across the country and with the rest of the world. Digital infrastructure holds the promise to drive our economy in this century the way rails and roads did in centuries past.
Core infrastructure sectors, such as transportation and energy, are becoming increasingly reliant on digital technology to perform critical tasks. Driverless cars require highly accurate location services; commercial drones need to transmit data in real-time; rail operators are looking for ways to survey damage remotely; public safety agencies are exploring options to more easily evaluate the impact of disasters in remote areas; and the energy sector is utilizing cutting-edge technology for inspection of oil, gas and utility lines to improve safety and create efficiencies.
America stands on the brink of next-generation wireless networks that will open the potential for new applications, new industries, and that will continue to fuel extraordinary economic growth and job creation. The Internet of Things has only just scratched the surface of what’s possible with these new networks. While the consumer benefits of faster networks are fairly easy to envision, the industrial and commercial benefits will be even more extraordinary. Our aging roads could be replaced not just with new asphalt and guardrails, but also digital sensors that communicate in real-time with each vehicle, reducing traffic congestion and making our commutes safer. Train conductors will have constant mapping and data on possible obstructions, ensuring that cargo can move faster and more safely, especially through rural areas that currently lack high-speed coverage. Hospitals can monitor an injured patient’s vital signs during an ambulance or medevac helicopter trip, providing medics with life-saving recommendations for care. Our oil and gas pipelines, which are vital to America’s energy future, can be constantly monitored for potential leaks and safety risks, saving lives, money, and improving our environment.
The remarkable potential for economic growth that digital infrastructure will fuel can only be fully realized, however, if the FCC, NTIA, and other policymakers work to efficiently review and optimize spectrum policy. Spectrum is a finite resource, and the government must play a role both in improving how we share it and in enabling the private sector to develop it.
While much of our physical infrastructure has long been either government-owned or regulated, nearly all of today’s digital networks have been privately built and funded — yet they are still unduly regulated. This requires a new approach to regulatory review that moves carefully, yet also quickly and decisively, to keep up with the pace of innovation. It also requires more creative public-private partnerships to maximize the job-creating potential while also ensuring the best use of public resources.
Policymakers must help foster efficient use of spectrum and digital infrastructure growth. In embracing the future of digital infrastructure, we can improve our physical infrastructure, including our crumbling roads and bridges, grow our economy, revitalize and expand our workforce, and catalyze even more private sector investment, creating a virtuous cycle of innovation and opportunity.
Ligado and other companies are prepared to put idle spectrum to work to develop and deploy new technologies to add billions of dollars to the U.S. economy, to create hundreds of thousands of skilled and unskilled jobs, and to invest in America’s digital infrastructure. These investments will not only benefit our communities, make our economy more competitive, create new opportunities for our workers, and allow the U.S. to maintain its leadership position, but it will signify a return to the American tradition of striving to meet and exceed modern demands.
Doug Smith is President and CEO of Ligado Networks