Lawmakers need 'somebody to educate us' on wireless technologies, senator says

A state senator from Minnesota believes that legislatures need more education to make good wireless policy decisions

ORLANDO, Fla. -- It is easy to get the feeling that innovation is passing you by or that you are not getting the most out of a cool new piece of technology. As a consumer, that is a personal problem where you will need to educate yourself.

It's a different problem if you are a state senator charged with upgrading local infrastructure and assigning budgets to building wireless networks. Then your lack of technological knowledge becomes a societal hindrance and a problem not just in your own house, but across a region.

“Many times people think [wireless innovation] is not a big deal but nobody comes to educate us. States are very inefficient,” said Senator Michael Jungbauer (R-Minn.) at a panel discussion on hot wireless topics at the CTIA Wireless convention at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. “We are not just one computer generation behind. We are four generations behind.“

Jungbauer believes that technology and innovation can help solve a lot of problems facing state lawmakers but “someone needs to come educate us” was the line he repeated several times during the discussion. The panel also had two commissioners from the Federal Communications Commission (Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker) as well as Tony Clark, chairman of the North Dakota Public Service Commission and National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

Jungbauer is no luddite. He is a smart phone user and has a general sense of what is happening in the world of technology if not an expert’s grasp. He firmly believes that wireless technologies can greatly enhance education, and said that sometimes he brings in technologically savvy teenagers to help colleagues understand new innovations.

“I went from a BlackBerry to an Android as an example, and you look at the applications that are available and you never think you will use something till you understand that it is available,” Jungbauer said.

“Rather than try to pound a square peg into a round hole we should look at our core competencies. What the state does well, what federal does well,” Clark said. “That is the prism of how we decide what to do or not to do and then figure out who does what,” he added.

The availability of spectrum continues to be a limiting factor in many places, but North Dakota's wide-open spaces aren't prone to the "spectrum crunch" that faces densely- populated cities, Clark said. “It is not an issue of spectrum for places like North Dakota,” Clark said. “It is an issue of capital.”

By capital, Clark is referring to infrastructure – cell towers, base stations etc. – and how to implement and pay for it. The National Broadband Plan has outlined how the FCC wants to go about increasing broadband penetration (wireless and fiber optic) but it comes down to states, counties and towns to deal with the zoning laws and actual construction, which is not an easy task.

Jungbauer believes that states make the job more difficult for themselves by not having the technological expertise needed to address the problem. “We stifle the innovation because we kind of have a cap on where you can go with things and that is kind of scary because that stifles innovation,” he said.

“So, we have to be educated on how fast all the apps are coming out and who is buying them, who is using them. I think most legislatures don't know. Honestly, when you are sitting there for five or six months working on budgets, when you get to something like telecom and especially the wireless aspect, you think it is such a small portion but really it is driving a large portion of our economy today and where we are going innovation-wise,” added Jungbauer.

About the Author

Dan Rowinski is a staff reporter covering communications technologies.


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