Mobile broadband expansion means jobs growth, experts say

Industry group says telecom industry doing its part to boost employment

Expanding mobile broadband services in the U.S. in the coming years would produce thousands of new jobs and help reverse today's downward employment trend, a group of economic development and business officials said Wednesday.

"As mobile broadband is built out, you are likely to see jobs created," said Michael Mandel, chief economic strategist for the Progressive Policy Institute during a conference call sponsored by the Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA).

For instance, IIA member AT&T has said that its pending $39 billion merger with T-Mobile USA will expand mobile network connections for faster wireless services -- and create jobs. Jamal Simmons, co-chairman of the alliance, today noted that Communications Workers of America expects that the merger will create some 96,000 jobs.

Mandel noted that the major U.S. carriers are investing "tens of billions" of dollars annually to expand wireless networks. He suggested that other businesses should be investing in expansion as well.

"The real problem with the recession or depression," he said, "is that most businesses have cut back on investing in the U.S. We have a massive investment drought going on. With no investment there's no job creation. That's the essence of the job problem. The exceptions [include] the telecom industry."

Initiatives by the Federal Communications Commission to expand mobile broadband services into rural areas could also lead to an influx of jobs, IIA members on the conference call said.

Corey Mehaffy, president of an economic development authority in central rural Missouri, said mobile broadband capabilities was a key reason that China-based Mamtek International agreed to build food processing and pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities near Moberly, Mo. "They wouldn't locate here without broadband," he said, citing the company's need to strong communications connections to Hong Kong and California.

Mehaffy said Mamtek and other companies are expected to push for video over wireless and other innovations that require strong mobile networks.

"Broadband is not the only thing that matters [to companies like Mamtek] ... but broadband is the leading edge of the economy," Mandel said.

Jon Troen, managing partner of Catchfire Media and CEO of Colorfx and Rock Communications in Des Moines, Iowa, said his business could be helped by more uniform wireless access, since he can't view presentations wirelessly for two hours while on trips through Iowa to printing facilities in Fargo, N.D.

"The way we do business today, that two hours is a big problem," he said. Consistent wireless access means having the ability to "work easier, quicker and more efficiently."

Simmons said reallocation of spectrum and federal re-distribution of telecom fees could aid not only rural areas, but urban areas still underserved by broadband.

The conference call followed the release of a 24-page study by consultant Deloitte which concludes that the U.S. needs to continue working to find ways to make better use of available spectrum and to unlock additional spectrum.

Without prescribing specific approaches for Congress and the FCC to reach those goals, the Deloitte study concluded that "insufficient spectrum could cause the United States to go from leader to laggard in the global competition to claim the benefits of 4G technology."

Deloitte also enumerated the economic impact of moving wireless networks from 3G to 4G, noting that carriers could invest $25 billion to $53 billion in such projects between 2012 and 2016. Such an investment could trigger growth of $73 billion to $151 billion domestic production while creating 371,000 to 771,000 jobs, Deloitte added.

Deloitte warned a $25 billion investment assumes a "moderate pace" of growth that could leave U.S. companies "vulnerable to incursions by foreign competitors." By contrast, a $53 billion figure assumes U.S. firms would be more aggressive in producing 4G services "before global competitors gain traction."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Read more about mobile and wireless in Computerworld's Mobile and Wireless Topic Center.

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