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CEA launches grassroots campaign for more wireless broadband in the United States

Cloaked in July 4 patriotism, Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), launched a campaign last week with an end result that would take spectrum from television broadcasters and use it for wireless broadband communications.

Called the “Declaration of Innovation,” Shapiro — a sharp critic of broadcasters, who has called them spectrum “squatters”— has proposed an online pledge for Americans to sign in support of policies that he says will ensure that innovation remains a strategic advantage in the nation.

Shapiro warned that the United States is in a “spectrum crunch,” and the airwaves are like “waterfront property — there is only so much to go around.” Television broadcasters control much of that spectrum, he said in a speech that was part of Consumer Electronic week in New York City.

Shapiro noted that his organization — along with the FCC, the Obama administration and the Republican party — are all backing legislation that would take back part of the TV broadcasters’ spectrum and put it up for auction for wireless broadband use.

The consumer electronics chief cited statistics on the need for more wireless spectrum. He said smartphones use 24 times as much spectrum as traditional cell phones; tablet PCs transmit 122 times the data of traditional cell phones; wireless usage will multiply in the United States by 40 times in coming years; and by 2014, there will be a 300MHz deficit in wireless spectrum.

More video, he noted, is downloaded from YouTube every 60 days than the amount the major networks have broadcast in all of 60 years.

Only 8 percent of American households now rely solely on over-the-air TV broadcasts, according to CEA estimates. Even after the auction, Shapiro said TV stations will still have enough spectrum to cover 100 percent of all households in the United States.

“TV broadcasts in the U.S. would not end,” Shapiro said. “The auction would stimulate innovation and create economic development.”

Shapiro said the auction would allocate 120MHz of unlicensed spectrum, which companies in the past have used to develop such products as remote control garage door openers, Wi-Fi, baby monitors and other devices. This spectrum would give entrepreneurs the opportunity to develop new products that haven’t even been dreamed of yet, he said.

CEA’s Innovation Movement urges lawmakers to support policies that promote innovation. The Declaration of Innovation specifically states that American innovators should be able to buy and sell their products around the world; more spectrum must be available for wireless broadband; the best and brightest minds should be welcome to the United States; and the nation should cut the federal deficit.

An ad introducing the campaign ran last week in the Wall Street Journal. Print and online ads are also being run in Capitol Hill publications The Hill, National Journal, Politico and The Weekly Standard. The campaign is also tied to Shapiro’s book, “The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream.”