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essential element of the U.S. economy and society

Telecommunications has expanded greatly over the past few decades from primarily landline telephone service to the use of fiber optic, cable, and wireless connections offering a wide range of voice, image, video, and data services. Yet it is not a mature industry, and major innovation and change—driven by research—can be expected for many years to come.Without an expanded investment in research, however, the nation’s position as a leader is at risk. Strong competition is emerging from Asian and European countries that are making substantial investments in telecommunications R&D.

For many telecommunications products and services that are now commodities, the United States is at a competitive disadvantage compared with countries where the cost of doing business is lower. Continued U.S. strength in telecommunications, therefore, will require a focus on high-value innovation that is made possible only by a greater emphasis on research. Expansion of telecommunications research is also necessary to attract, train, and retain research talent.

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How important is telecommunications as an industry, and how important is telecommunications research to the overall health of that industry? Underlying these questions are several others. How important is telecommunications to the U.S. economy and society? To what extent are U.S. consumers likely to benefit directly from telecommunications research in terms of new products and services that enhance their lives or improve their effectiveness or productivity? How much scope for innovation is there left in telecommunications, or has telecommunications matured to the point that it is merely a commodity service or technology?

The core findings of this study—which are supported throughout this report—are that the telecommunications industry remains of crucial importance to the United States as a society, that a strong telecommunications research capability continues to be essential to the health and competitiveness of this U.S. industry internationally, and that the health of this industry strongly affects the U.S. economy in many ways.

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