THE BLOG

Can Pritzker Help Close the Deal on Spectrum?

05/22/2013 01:04 pm ET | Updated Jul 22, 2013

President Obama has rightly received widespread accolades for nominating Penny Pritzker to be the next U.S. Commerce Secretary. A seasoned entrepreneur, she delivers instant business credibility, experience and gravitas to the Administration at a critical time for the country's economic recovery.

President Obama touted his nominee as one who "knows from experience that no government program alone can take the place of a great entrepreneur." Nowhere could this statement be truer than in the mobile innovation sector, which is today driving growth across so many sectors of our economy.

Since the age of mobile began some 30 years ago, government has exercised rare restraint with regard to the evolution of wireless. This approach deserves partial credit for the fact that U.S. mobile innovation has advanced at an unparalleled pace--connecting our citizens, creating jobs and carving out a central role in our modern lives faster than any other technology.

Mobile innovation continues to flourish because the marketplace is allowed to work. Entrepreneurs' ideas and execution are directly subject to the verdict of consumer likes and dislikes. This E2C approach--entrepreneur to consumer--is transforming our economy. Fifteen years ago, "Google" was simply a number. A decade ago, "Facebook" was a way for Harvard students to ogle their peers. A mere five years ago, "applications" were just for jobs or college. Now, Americans typically have 100 apps on their "smart" phone. And, the word "phone" itself now has a suspect shelf life, likely headed the way of record, CDs and other artifacts of the pre-digital age.

The rise of the mobile web is giving birth to whole new segments of our economy. Today's nascent $25 billion apps market--centered mostly in the U.S.--is set to double in three years. It's just one example of the fresh waves of opportunity mobile is delivering to a whole new generation of entrepreneurs.

The limits to this momentum lie largely with government policy--and the lack of government action.

Despite supporting more than 330 million connections, our nation's mobile Internet has access to less than 16% of the wireless spectrum capacity best suited for this connectivity. This is an untenable figure given that U.S. wireless networks run today at near-capacity levels--at far greater risk of congestion than our global economic rivals.

Strong, sophisticated wireless networks are highly capital intensive to maintain. In the U.S., they currently attract about $23 billion per year in private investment, as no less than 16 service providers race to deploy and expand next-generation 4G LTE networks and services.

Working toward President Obama's widely praised wireless initiative to make more spectrum available for mobile use, the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is seeking to identify, clear and repurpose underutilized government spectrum for commercial use. With the vast majority of the nation's broadband spectrum assets held not by American businesses and consumers but by federal government departments, failure to free up more of this spectrum simply is not an option.

With her lifetime of experience understanding what makes businesses tick, what attracts and repels investment, what creates jobs and economic growth that are sustainable, perhaps Pritzker could be the 'closer' we need to make this complex, yet time-sensitive process a success.

As she heads into her Senate confirmation hearings this week, I for one would like to hear her point of view on spectrum and our modern mobile innovation economy. Can she--would she--bring her business acumen to this critical task? In doing so, she could help secure a cornerstone of President Obama's legacy--meaningful progress in connecting the entire nation to mobile's many opportunities.

Pritzker is known to be tenacious and to speak her mind. As a young girl, she convinced her grandfather to teach her--not just the boys of the family--about business. She's built highly successful companies from scratch. She even finished an Ironman--after spraining her ankle in mile one of the marathon run.

Simply put, when it's time to get the job done, she's the one you want in your corner. It's just this combination of business savvy and determination that could help push this high-stakes proceeding into the "win" column--for the Administration and for the nation. Here's hoping it gets her attention, and we have before us the nation's first mCommerce Secretary.

Jonathan Spalter, chairman of Mobile Future (www.mobilefuture.org), has been founding CEO of leading technology, media, and research companies, including Public Insight, Snocap, and Atmedica Worldwide. He served in the Clinton Administration as a Director on the National Security Council.