The organization’s CEO addresses spectrum auctions,
the DTV transition, mobile advertising and consumer privacy.
Steve Largent has been a wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks, worked with nonprofit group the Wheelchair Foundation and served as an Oklahoma congressman. He’s also been the president and CEO of CTIA since 2003, advocating on behalf of the wireless industry.
Wireless Week Associate Editor Maisie Ramsay recently spoke with Largent about changes since the Obama administration took over, privacy concerns and the effect of the DTV delay on CTIA members.
Wireless Week: Telecom-related programs will get $7.2 billion under the economic stimulus bill to be signed into law by President Barack Obama, with $6.39 billion of those funds targeted at promoting broadband access in rural areas with little to no broadband access. How do you hope to see those funds implemented? What potential do you see in the bill?
Steve Largent: There are a lot of questions that remain about requirements imposed for access to the funds, but we’re here to work with the administration to determine the best way to fund wireless, shovel-ready projects to bring immediate benefits to U.S. wireless broadband consumers.
WW: In terms of regulation of the wireless industry, what are you expecting under the new administration and the recent changes at the FCC?
Largent: It’s clear that the administration is extremely technologically savvy – we saw that in the campaign … [The Obama administration] recognizes the important role that wireless communications is playing in everyone’s lives today, and the fantastic opportunities that are right around the corner. We don’t have to explain it to them. They understand it and know what the technology can do. We share their desire to provide Americans with 21st Century communications tools and there’s no question that wireless broadband tops that list.
WW: What kind of mood do you expect at the show this year?
Largent: This is such a wildly competitive and innovative industry, I’d be surprised if the mood [at the show] was anything but what we’ve seen in the past five or six years. Innovation has continued on throughout this year and will continue at the show.
WW: CTIA has voiced concerns that the DTV transition delay could postpone investment in and deployment of broadband wireless services and a decrease in confidence in the auction model for spectrum allocation. How would you like to see the DTV transition implemented?
Largent: The one message we’ve tried to deliver to the administration and anyone else that would listen to us is that our carriers are poised to make use of this 700 MHz spectrum and as quickly as possible.
We have several of our companies already making announcements of how they intend to use the spectrum and get on with it this year. I think that probably surprised some people, but that’s just how our industry is: It’s fast moving, fast paced and it’s a race to get the new services out to customers as quickly as possible.
I think the benefit is that the delay was targeted, it was short and our carriers were willing to go along with that. But I believe that any conversation about extending the deadline would be viewed poorly by our members and by consumers as well.
I think most of the stories have been very positive about where customers are and about the deployment of the converter boxes, [and] could even reveal that maybe we didn’t need the delay after all. That being said, we’ve got the delay, we’ve got companies willing to comply with it. We just don’t want to see it delayed any longer
WW: Did the DTV transition from February to June pose hardship for any of your members?
Largent: This really is a highly competitive industry and the race goes to the swiftest. Any kind of delay like this causes some heartburn for the industry.
WW: Are you concerned that the DTV transition delay will get pushed out any further than June?
Largent: I don’t think [a further delay] will happen. There were a lot of people who voted for the delay that understand our concerns about the delay in the DTV transition. The slice of consumers that are impacted negatively by the DTV transition is getting smaller and smaller.
WW: There are some consumer watchdog groups concerned with privacy infringement related to mobile advertising. How are your members dealing with this issue, and what role does CTIA have regarding privacy rights?
Largent: Mobile advertising is presenting some new customer experience paradigms as well as the need of increased scrutiny for customer data and privacy. We’re aware of that.
All the major carrier companies and CTIA have formed a mobile advertising action team to review the issues and come to an agreement on a set of standards and best practices for all the really critical pieces of the mobile advertising industry. That includes reporting metrics, targeting information, ad inventory, consumer privacy and so on. [The team] is in the process of creating best practices for customer privacy.
There will be a written industry position to highlight for consumers in a clear manner what the wireless industry is committing to in terms of consumer privacy.
WW: So when can we expect to see material coming out of that group?
Largent: Sooner rather than later. When you’re dealing with a bunch of companies on an issue like this, everybody has issues they want to make sure they’ve dealt with before they move forward. It’s a process that we have to go through that just takes some time and it’s really hard to predict when. This could be one that gets completed very quickly, that would be my hope, but it’s hard to predict when it’s going to happen.
WW: The industry right now is policing itself in terms of mobile content. Does CTIA have a role to play in ensuring the mobile content industry is legitimate and that companies are abiding by industry guidelines? Is an official enforcement entity for the mobile content industry necessary?
Largent: The industry has really stepped up to the plate in this area. Carriers agreed some time ago to provide consumers with a number of safeguards that relate to mobile content, [with] options such as Internet filtering technology.
We’ve done a good job to balance the right of consumers to purchase content of their own choosing while providing consumers, such as parents, a wide array of control options. I think that’s a really healthy balance.
WW: How are the members of CTIA situated in terms of spectrum? Do they have enough? When do you think another spectrum auction will happen?
Largent: The last two auctions that we held provided some much-needed spectrum that we had to have as an industry to continue moving forward, but those spectrums took us somewhere between eight to 12 years to bring to market.
It is a long-range goal of this organization to begin the process to bring the next spectrum available to market and auction as quick as possible, because we understand what the timeline has been in the last several years for getting spectrum.
U.S. wireless carriers are already the most efficient users of spectrum in the world. They provide services to 750,000 Americans per each megahertz of spectrum allocated to CMRS. That is significantly more than what Japan and Korea are doing.
We’re really looking forward to working with President Obama and the chairman of the FCC to find additional spectrum for wireless. It is something that we know will be a need in the future, and I think it will allow us to continue to lead the world in wireless broadband.
WW: What do you think the prospects are for a nationwide public safety network? What is the role of the wireless industry in the PSN?
Largent: More importantly than the wireless industry’s role, the FCC and Congress have made it clear that they are committed to making it work. The 700 MHz D Block proceeding is still pending at the FCC, but our wireless carriers are already providing critical support to police and fire departments all around the country.
We look forward to working with public safety on a nationwide interoperable network for first responders. We think it’s important for them to have that, and as an industry, we have 20 years of experience running these highly effective and efficient, state-of-the-art wireless communications networks. We’re willing to work with them and want to work with them in whatever capacity they need us to do that.
WW: What are CTIA and its members doing in terms of dealing with the environmental impact of disposing of handsets and placing antennas?
Largent: I’m proud to say this is an issue that we have been working on for over five years that I’ve been at CTIA, so this is not a knee-jerk reaction in the industry because there’s been a change in the administration and in Congress.
It’s something that we’re very committed to. I’m proud to tell you that every major carrier has a recycling program of their own which allows consumers to bring in their devices and other hardware to any store where they will eventually be disposed of properly. I think that’s a good, healthy, green initiative.
There’s also a number of innovative products made by manufactures such as green devices made of recycled materials, and there’s been a lot of work by some suppliers in the areas of using biofuels to power cell cites. It’s a work in progress, but we’ve made significant progress in the last five years.
WW: Do you see a time when early termination fees will be eliminated?
Largent: This is such a competitive industry, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a carrier to do that. In fact, in the past year or year and a half, all of our carriers have made moves to make changes to their early termination fees. And why did they do that? Not because their regulator was beating them over the head, but because our customers asked for it.
Because of the competitive nature of this industry, when our consumers speak and ask for something, they’ll get it from their carriers or they’ll leave that carrier and go to one that will.
Filed Under: Industry regulations