The recommendations below lay out steps that the United States should take to develop and sustain a multifaceted, reinvigorated telecommunications research program. The recommendations envision a greater role for government-sponsored and university research in telecommunications than has been evident in the past and also envision additional investment by industry in more work of a fundamentally high-risk character with more attention to overall architectural issues. The recommendations are all aimed at so-called precompetitive activities; when the time arrives for development, implementation, and deployment, it will be up to equipment and software suppliers to create and manufacture the products and to service providers to deploy the necessary facilities and services.
Determining how much funding to provide for such a telecommunications research initiative involves, of course, a complex set of budgetary tradeoffs among research programs and between research and non-research activities. The committee does not make a recommendation for a specific funding level but notes that funding should be consistent with the vital role played by telecommunications in the U.S. economy and society and with the direct contributions made by the U.S. telecommunications industry to the nation’s economy and security. Funding should also be consistent with telecommunications’ role as a critical element of information technology (some 16 percent of the total federal networking and information technology research and development budget today goes to telecommunications
Finally, the investment should be large enough to support a critical mass of researchers and research; one estimate can be drawn from the predivestiture Bell Labs, whose budget of over $500 million (in today’s dollars) for basic research was sized to provide the breadth and depth to comprehensively address telecommunications research issues.
The federal government should establish a new research organization—the Advanced Telecommunications Research Activity—to rejuvenate fundamental and applied telecommunications research in the United States and to stimulate and coordinate activities across industry, academia, and government that can translate research results into deployments of significant new telecommunications capabilities.
In light of the findings presented above, the committee believes that a new national research organization, which it dubs the Advanced Telecommunications Research Activity (ATRA), should be established by the federal government. This recommendation is inspired in large part by the enormous leaps in telecommunications technology historically attributable to DARPA and Bell Labs and the success of broad industry consortia such as SEMATECH.