Whether it’s connecting with classmates and teachers, working from home, or attending virtual doctor visits, the COVID-19 pandemic has made Louisianans’ need to be connected to high speed internet more important than ever. But too often, the solutions offered for closing the state’s digital divide has revolved around government spending. In reality, truly closing the digital divide can only happen with innovation and investment by the private sector.
Take the C-Band wireless spectrum, for example. Spectrum is simply the space in the air that is used to transmit data wirelessly, such as radio signals or Wi-Fi. The C-Band is unique in that it is mid-band spectrum, which means it’s powerful enough to penetrate buildings. This ensures the signal isn’t blocked and allows for lightning fast connectivity, which significantly cuts the time spent waiting for videos or other data intensive activities to load or play.
The next generation of wireless technology promises to not only provide faster internet and constant connection, but it also has the potential to connect rural areas, where traditional infrastructure would be more expensive. Furthermore, deployment and adoption of this next generation of technology could contribute more than three million jobs and over $600 billion in GDP in just five years.
While the C-Band is perfect for the deployment of this new wireless technology, it needs to make it into the hands of those who are best equipped to innovate within the C-Band spectrum.
Since the 1970s, most of the C-Band spectrum has remained allocated for satellite television access. But times and technology change. Thanks to advancements in satellite and other technologies, more than half of the C-Band can now be freed up and used to connect our devices without threatening the transmission of satellite TV.
The Federal Communications Commission has wisely begun the process of speeding up the transition of the C-Band from satellite companies to other private firms, and the results have been encouraging. The private sector is willing to spend billions to speed up the transition of the C-Band from television to wireless connectivity. This should come as great news to our state, as it has the potential to connect some of the more than 500,000 Louisianans currently without a broadband connection.
Of course, C-band spectrum is just one example of innovation in the wireless space that can close the digital divide. As more and more valuable spectrum has been freed up, whether from government ownership or less valuable purposes, companies are racing to acquire the spectrum and invest in new technology.
While government’s instinct is to spend more money to connect citizens, it’s an imprudent approach for taxpayers or consumers. Ultimately, the investment in communications technology by the private sector holds the most promise for closing the digital divide.
Both the federal and state governments should remove as many barriers to investment and innovation as possible and open public infrastructure for deployment. The people of Louisiana can no longer afford to wait to be connected.
Eric Peterson is the Director of the Pelican Center for Technology and Innovation at the Pelican Institute for Public Policy.