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Time to invest in much-needed mobile infrastructure
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Isn't life quite a bit easier with apps on your phone and fast Internet connections? Broadband-high-speed Internet-has become a crucial tool for rural and urban residents alike.

Turlock is no stranger to the benefits of increased access to high-speed Internet. In Stanislaus County, broadband lets people join meetings in Los Angeles, take online calculus classes through the University of California, and enables veterans to consult with specialists through telemedicine at the VA's Modesto Clinic. Want to renew your library book at the Stanislaus County Library? No problem. There's an app for that, too.

Seventy percent of Central Valley residents now report that they have broadband at home, compared to 53 percent in 2008, according to Public Policy Institute of California. While this percentage trails the rates of other metropolitan regions of the state such as San Francisco and San Diego, the Central Valley has made significant strides in broadband adoption.

More and more, people are using mobile devices to access the Internet. Nearly half of Americans now use smartphones, like the iPhone or Android, which provide more freedom and capability away from the home and office. With people using high speed wireless connections to do everything from banking to shopping and streaming videos to checking inventory, the amount of wireless data being transmitted over airwaves - known as spectrum - is increasing exponentially. In fact, smart phones use 24 times more data, and tablets such as iPads use 122 times more data than basic cell phones. The FCC predicts that the amount of data being transmitted over wireless connections will increase 35 times by 2015.

What does all this growth mean to people in Central Valley? Spectrum carries signals from mobile devices, radio, TV, and GPS equipment. However, only a small percentage of spectrum is allotted for consumer use. To ensure good service, the government, which controls the allocation of spectrum, needs to make more available for consumers.

Congress recently passed legislation that will allow some additional spectrum to be auctioned off for wireless consumer use, a win-win policy that will allow for improved and expanded service for people reliant on their mobile phones and tablets. However, it could take years for this spectrum to be redistributed.

While federal officials work on a solution to make more spectrum available for consumers, private companies and state governments are working to extend mobile broadband coverage to rural areas, which lag behind their urban counterparts in high-speed access. Doing so requires a massive capital investment by private industry to deliver something people want - fast, speedy broadband and wireless connections. But companies wanting to invest in expanded wireless coverage need access to spectrum to carry their customers' calls and data. In this scenario, spectrum might be compared to real estate. A developer interested in constructing a neighborhood needs access to real estate to build it.

The explosion in mobile innovation is creating new opportunities for Central Valley residents to stay connected. To fully realize these new opportunities, we need to encourage the government to ensure that consumers have access to more spectrum while also providing the right incentives for private sector investment. If businesses continue to invest in the much-needed mobile infrastructure across the state and government makes smart policy decisions, consumers will undoubtedly benefit, and businesses will grow. Together, we can continue to build the connected, advanced economy of tomorrow - today.

- Mike Montgomery is the Executive Director of CALinnovates. Throughout his career, Mike has consulted on political, legal, public policy and new media strategy in addition to fundraising. Notably, Mike served as Northern California Finance Director for Governor Gray Davis and National Finance Director for San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. He is passionate about the intersection of technology, politics, the economy, and the environment.