Pro football hall of famer Steve Largent knows something about game plans. In his unofficial coming-out party as the new head of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association last week, Largent showed he can cover the wireless field, but his route may be a bit too safe. At a time when the domestic wireless industry is lagging behind most of the developed world in the breadth and depth of its offerings, CTIAs focus should be squarely on standards, regulations and reinvestment. The lobbying organizations show in Atlanta was the prime opportunity to sound out carriers and government officials to determine their commitment to the kinds of robust and affordable services U.S. enterprises want and South Koreas enterprises, for example, already have.
However, CTIAs version of the prevent defense was on display early on, as Largent went easy on his guests during the shows Q&A sessions. Perhaps the most telling omission was the absence of pointed questioning of FCC Chairman Michael Powell. While uncertainty about regulations and radio-frequency interference breed hesitancy on the part of the carriers, Powell was left to chitchat about the desires of teen cell phone users.
Largents time would have been better spent urging the FCC chief to abandon his support of the proposed 1.9GHz spectrum giveaway to Nextel, which is intended only to eliminate the interference with public safety communications that Nextel created.
Largent, a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma, got the CTIA gig because of his conservative connections, so his minimalist regulatory pedigree isnt in question. What is curious is his decision not to make Powell explain to the CTIA constituency where the FCC stands on things like E911 compliance, designation of wireless traffic as traditional telephony, tax status and the still-undefined realm of broadband regulation. The regulatory freedom that marked the early stages of wireless is often given credit for the industrys rapid growth and development. That freedom is now threatened by increasing calls from states to tax the services as well as by the blurring lines between IT and telecom in areas such as voice over IP.
Clearly, the buzz is back in wireless, as the huge crowds in Atlanta attested, but despite double-digit adoption increases reported by the carriers, Largent got few assurances from the carriers that the added revenues are being reinvested in wireless infrastructure, a key element to the success of wireless data services, as the telcos of South Korea and Japan well know. The hesitancy to address reinvestment on the part of the carriers is due partly to the regulatory uncertainty. But it is also a result of the United States patchwork of wireless standards.
Enterprise users care more about what the service does than how it is done. What we expect from Largent and his advocacy organization is more focus on the latter. As weve seen so far, you cant get one without the other.
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