WASHINGTON, June 12, 2013 – Concerns over spectrum policy and data privacy dominated the conversation between AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson and Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., at a Wednesday panel on “Accelerating the Mobile Technology Revolution” at the Brookings Institution.
Stephenson praised the approach that the Federal Communications Commission has taken with the incentive auctions for spectrum so far. The policies have been successful, he said, because the FCC has set reasonable caps on how much spectrum a carrier can hold.
Additionally, he said, the agency has facilitated a strong secondary market where spectrum can be moved by market forces to where it is most needed, and it has placed strict requirements on spectrum “build out” to prevent such valuable radio-frequency resources from being underutilized.
In reference to the upcoming auction, planned for 2014, both Stephenson and the senator agreed that the detailed approach to be undertaken by the FCC depended upon whether it was more important to raise revenue for the government, to lower costs for consumers, or promote the most efficient possible use of spectrum.
“The success of the auction will depend on the question we’ve been debating here: the structure of the auction,” Stephenson said.
Both panelists urged caution regarding restricting the bidding of larger carriers like AT&T and Verizon Communications. Stephenson noted that these two carriers have acquired the spectrum they have because they were active in previous auctions, whereas the companies that such restrictions would assist chose not to bid previously. Pryor was also wary of the adverse effects that the restrictions could have on the industry.
“You want to be careful that you’re not limiting the companies from investing or innovating,” Pryor said.
The panelists also discussed data security. Although Stephenson refused to comment specifically on the recently revealed gathering of phone and data records by the National Security Agency, he stated that his company is committed to consumer privacy and protection – but is also compliant with government subpoenas and court orders.
Pryor noted that many members of both House and Senate Homeland Security Committees have defended the information-gathering. However, he also affirmed the importance of an ethical approach to such practices.
“We need to make sure there’s a lot of integrity in that process,” he said.
Stephenson expressed high regard for American mobile technology versus the rest of the world.
Europe, which was once the global leader, has fallen behind. Stephenson blamed that on other countries’ use of shorter-term spectrum licenses, hence discouraging investment.
Although several Asian nations have passed America in terms of coverage, he noted that equivalent technology is being used, but population density has hindered America progress.