Report | Budget, Taxes, and Public Investment

The benefits of robust wired and wireless networks

Briefing Paper #332

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Executive Summary

The proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger has sparked renewed discussion on the rollout of high-speed wired and wireless networks across the United States.

Widespread broadband deployment has the potential to yield benefits to tens of millions of Americans. However, the United States—which largely invented the technologies undergirding the Internet—has fallen behind many other nations in both access to and the speed of our broadband connections, and there is no clear path to bridging the current digital divide (the lack of access to information and communication technologies in socially disadvantaged and rural communities).

This report summarizes the benefits of robust wired and wireless networks and assesses some of the principal barriers to full deployment of those networks. Bringing high-speed broadband to nearly all communities in our country is important not just for those individuals who have no access to it but for the broader economy as well. Broadband deployment is a critical part of restoring our economy, improving educational opportunity, reducing health care costs, and saving energy, as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions through implementation of smart grid technology.

Wireless carriers such as AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint increasingly are just parts of a much broader ecosystem of wireless and wired telecommunications delivering services to customers with mobile devices. Policymakers thus need a better understanding of an emerging spectrum crisis in which excessive congestion in use of wireless services effectively could deny all com- munities full ability to access the benefits of wireless technology. Partly to deal with this spectrum crisis, there is an emerging synergy between wireless and wired broadband deployment, largely due to the rise of smartphones and the “offloading” of data through Wi-Fi connections onto the wired network.

Given the benefits of broadband deployment, there is a role for policymakers to help ensure that access is expanded. For example, specific measures could be put in place to ensure that carriers such as AT&T deliver on promises of deploying advanced broadband as a condition of merger approval. Such measures would help ensure the promised job creation and maintain a competitive ecosystem of wireless services.

This report outlines key findings on the digital divide, benefits of broadband, competition in wireless service provision, and the potential impact of the AT&T/T-Mobile merger.

Read EPI Briefing Paper #332

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