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Coleman: It’s Time for Government to Get Out of the Way of the Broadband Revolution

With many Americans out of work and frustrated with gridlock in Washington, we should be able to all agree that the federal government needs to move aside and let America do what America does best — create, innovate and build the technology that will move us, as a nation, into a more prosperous future.

One of the most significant obstacles to America’s economic growth is the absence of adequate access to technology — specifically, a broadband network that can be the platform to restoring America’s global economic dominance.

Without reliable access to broadband and its innovative applications for businesses large and small, America loses the ability to compete and we fall further behind our competitors in the global marketplace.

Federal Communications Commission Chief Julius Genachowski underscored this recently in a blog post: “The broadband divide means economic opportunities denied for ordinary consumers who lack broadband access; educational opportunities diminished; health care access reduced; and public safety compromised.”

Despite this reality, there remains a disconnect in Washington as to what it means to create a seamless broadband network that can connect technology to opportunity and economic growth and prosperity.

An example of that disconnect is the current battle that a private company, LightSquared, continues to wage with the federal government bureaucracy in its efforts to put its private, nongovernment capital into the marketplace to implement a wireless, broadband technology that can connect everyone in America.

When I joined the LightSquared team, I immediately understood that the promise of LightSquared’s offering to the marketplace is profound. Instead of tackling these problems through government spending programs, this $10 billion private investment has the ability to provide our country with the technology needed to increase our competitive advantage. That technology is a wireless, broadband network that can do more to connect America than any amount of public tax dollars has been able to accomplish. You don’t have to know who LightSquared is to admit that private investment, not taxpayer dollars, is the key to keeping America competitive.

Let’s be clear: The FCC has indicated a desire to aggressively expand the reach of broadband, particularly in rural areas. But, as with far too many issues in D.C., the small “p” politics of the issue is destroying the positive, big “P” of good public policy for America.

Some who have worried about LightSquared’s new network have voiced credible concerns about potential interference with GPS signals. Others have raised the specter of jeopardizing our defense systems. I will be the first to say that we need a more reliable GPS system; but if GPS is so vulnerable that we can’t bring new wireless technology to the marketplace, we have bigger problems, such as other countries developing the technology before us and using it to disrupt our national defense systems.

The bottom line is America must have a reliable GPS system, and sound science — not special-interest politics — needs to guide us through resolving these concerns and moving forward with the innovation.

For the policymakers in D.C. wrestling with a $15 trillion national debt and a deficit of nearly $1.6 trillion, it ought to make absolute sense that anytime the private sector is willing to put its money into America’s future, if backed by sound science, we ought to embrace it.

We criticize banks and other lenders for not investing enough, or fast enough, to spur economic growth, yet we have government officials putting up one roadblock after another in front of a company that is looking to invest billions of dollars in new, private — not government — investment, create tens of thousands of new jobs and provide access to wireless broadband for millions of Americans living in rural areas.

It’s not unreasonable for the federal government and policymakers to hold LightSquared and any other private-sector firm accountable for what it will do with its technology, and how it will implement it. That’s something we should expect government to do.

What is not reasonable is forcing the private sector to jump through hoops that drain its resources, delay the implementation of its technology and undermine the economic opportunities that await millions of Americans who can be quickly connected to technology that will transform their lives the way electricity and running water did a generation ago.

We can still protect the GPS system and unleash the amazing potential of LightSquared’s network. The wise and efficient use of the spectrum is vital to America’s economy, and an acute shortage of broadband capacity is already at hand. We have to solve these problems — not just shoot them down politically — and let the private marketplace tackle these marketplace needs.

If we do not allow private companies like LightSquared to move forward to conquer the broadband deficit that plagues our nation, we will fall further and further behind. We are telling millions of Americans families, from rural communities and elsewhere, that we are more concerned about politics than we are about their economic future.

If we want to unleash the economic power of America, we need to remove the barriers from private companies that are willing to take the risks to create jobs for millions of Americans.

It’s time for the technology revolution to no longer be a promise for millions of Americans; it’s time for it to be reality.

And, it’s time for government to get out of the way and let the LightSquareds of America lead the way.

Former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) is a paid adviser for LightSquared.

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