By Jonathan Spalter, Special to the Herald
As wireless connectivity and innovative smartphone devices are bringing the power of the internet into the palm of our hands, more than many Americans, the citizens of Washington have a lot to gain from the mobile future before us.
Washington, of course, widely is recognized as one of the leading innovation hubs in the world. The technology industry employs close to 400,000 Washingtonians -- almost 1 in 6 jobs in this state -- and many of these jobs are in the mobile sector. But the benefits of the mobile revolution extend well beyond direct employment.
Rural communities in Eastern Washington increasingly are adopting wireless technologies to expand economic progress, improve health care and education and connect to a whole array of opportunities.
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Wireless broadband and the connectivity it makes possible is enabling more young rural Americans to live and work in the towns where they grew up, rather than leaving to find opportunities.
Innovative business tools allow companies, regardless of their location, to compete on a global scale, do business seamlessly across broad territories and participate more fully in modern society.
Thanks to mobile innovation, agricultural entrepreneurs have new tools to manage their businesses and gain competitive advantage. A smartphone with GPS capabilities, for example, can help farmers cut down on seed and fertilizer costs. Wireless sensors can also help save water and provide more effective pest control.
Mobile devices bring top-notch health care to even the most remote communities.
Here in Washington, the Western Washington Rural Health Care Collaborative is using telemedicine to connect at patients' bedsides. Through the power of wireless, doctors can transmit CT scans andX-rays to specialists around the world.
Wireless technologies also expand educational opportunities, particularly with the rise of tablet devices that one day will replace those overstuffed book bags. Washington residents can retrieve library information via the Ask-WA Mobile App. They also can use mobile to prepare for the driving test at the DMV. These are just a few ways technology is connecting people with resources that can improve their lives.
President Obama was right in this year's State of the Union Address to focus on connecting virtually all Americans to the wireless web within five years. Now it's time to bring those benefits home to communities across the country.
It's a goal that will take not only the vision of private sector innovators, but also the commitment and support of policymakers in the nation's capital. As consumers trade up from basic cell phones to smart phones, their mobile internet usage increases30-fold. Add to the mix iPads and other video-friendly tablet devices, and wireless traffic increases another five-fold.
Consumer demand for mobile internet shows no sign of abating. This means more spectrum is urgently needed to accommodate this ongoing growth.
Spectrum is the "invisible infrastructure" that makes all wireless connectivity possible. It is finite in nature, supporting everything from ham radio to baby monitors to wireless communications and over-the-air TV. It needs to continually be put to the broadest possible use for consumers and our economy.
Consumers should be able to take this connectivity for granted. But, as stewards of the nation's airwaves, policymakers cannot. President Obama and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski are rightly giving the spectrum issue the sense of urgency it deserves.
Without more spectrum, all of the possibility that comes with growing mobile connectivity could grind to a halt. With an appropriate focus in Washington today, mobile innovation can continue to unlock powerful new progress for our society.
* Jonathan Spalter is chairman of Mobile Future and former spokesperson for Vice President Al Gore.
Spalter is speaking Wednesday at the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Richland Red Lion. For reservations, call 509-736-0510 on Monday.