The Washington Post

Innovators: Mobile Future chairman says poor spectrum policy will hinder mobile innovation


Jonathan Spalter.

Jonathan Spalter knows firsthand how slowly the gears of government can grind. He served in a number of government positions during the 1990s, including associate director and chief information officer of the U.S. Information Agency under President Bill Clinton.

He’s also been a businessman, holding executive positions at French media company Vivendi Universal, as well as serving in an assortment of policy and regulatory advisory groups in Washington and California.

Since 2008, Spalter has brought his government and business backgrounds to bear as the chairman of Mobile Future, a coalition of companies and nonprofit organizations with a key interest in policy that helps to advance mobile innovation.

IDEA BOX: Federal agencies need to bring under-used spectrum to auction faster — and make those auctions transparent — if the wireless industry is going create innovative products that advance health, education and other areas of daily life.

Why was Mobile Future formed?

■ Often those who were regulating and legislating the industry could barely keep up with the turbo-charged pace at which the wireless industry was changing. We thought there was an opportunity to create a new platform for helping to educate policymakers about what was going on at the very edges of innovation in mobility and wireless, as well as an opportunity to make sure those who are out there innovating in the mobile wireless space have better vision of what’s going on in the very important hallways and offices in Washington.

One of your primary focus areas is spectrum, or the airwaves over which telecommunication companies move data. Why?

■The huge amount of data that consumers are using is an explosion of both opportunity but also demand on the networks. What’s ultimately fueling that demand is the invisible resource of spectrum. It’s managed by the government. The government owns most of it. Yet we’re on this path to even more exciting chapters in the evolution of mobility and wireless, all of which will be based on increasing reliance on sustainable and secure access to spectrum.

We thought if we are going to continue to really enjoy and use these new innovations that are having such a sweeping impact on our businesses and lives, we really have to shine a bright, focused light on making sure the government is getting it right on spectrum management and spectrum policy.

What should the government do to speed up the spectrum auction process?

■ The good news is that our government now really gets it when it comes to understanding the need for speed in getting more spectrum into the marketplace. To continue this progress, it must make crafting an effective, open, transparent and simple auction design a key priority. It also must speed up the review process for secondary market transactions, and ensure federal government agencies do not drag their feet on achieving President Obama’s goal to meaningfully reallocate under-utilized federal spectrum for consumer use.

But speed is not the only value here. Getting the details right is equally paramount. The upcoming incentive auction for spectrum held by broadcasting companies, in particular, will be a complicated nine-bank billiard shot, and we have only one stroke of the cue to get it right.

How does Mobile Future believe those auctions should be structured?

■ The one single thing government can do to ensure that the most sellers and bidders as possible come to the table quickly and enthusiastically is making certain that the auctions are designed to be open to all, and not weighted down with complicated restrictions in order to favor one outcome or another, or one competitor or another. Technology companies understand that to be most viable, they must design their products with the minimal number of attributes as possible. The Federal Communications Commission can learn from this principle when it comes to auction design.

What does Mobile Future see as the repercussions if more spectrum is not made available more quickly?

■ We know that one of the greatest evolutions taking place is that we’re not just connecting people across broadband devices, now we’re connecting things. Billions of things. The Internet of Things is a reality, and it’s only going to become a more profoundly important part of our lives. These are not necessarily smartphones. These are your car talking to the cloud. Your fridge talking to your supermarket. Your kid’s glucose monitor talking to her endocrinologist's computer. For all of these innovations to continue to become realities requires more and more reliable access to spectrum.

So will consumers suffer most?

■ It is not simply that we will all face the frustration of more dropped calls and more time staring at the infamous loading symbol of doom. Spectrum has become existentially important to our nation. Not having enough of it in the long term will have real and significant impacts on our nation’s economic productivity, our competitiveness, our public safety, and the health and educational opportunities of our families and communities. Making more spectrum available is critical for thousands of mobile entrepreneurs developing new products and services that will continue to transform how we work, live and play.

Is it good that big tech firms are engaging with the government on issues such as surveillance, privacy and cybersecurity?

■ Absolutely. The more stakeholders from the tech world of all kinds that can interact with, educate and learn from government, the better our policies will be, and the better our technologies will become.

I agree with what FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said recently: We now live in a world of such rapid innovation that any law involving technology is likely to already be out of date by the moment it passed. By encouraging more open, transparent and fluid interaction between those who innovate and those who regulate and legislate, we all stand a better chance of ending up not just with better technology, more investment, and more innovation, but also with smarter rules and laws.

THE BIG IDEA

Federal agencies need to bring under-used spectrum to auction faster — and make those auctions transparent — if the wireless industry is going create innovative products that advance health, education and other areas of daily life.

Steven Overly is a national reporter covering federal technology and energy policy with a focus on Capitol Hill. He previously covered the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital.
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read
DJIA 2%
NASDAQ 1.66%
Last Update: 4:40 PM 02/13/2016(DJIA&NASDAQ)

business

capitalbusiness

Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.