In the upcoming election year, virtually every American will be a 'single-issue voter,' going to the ballot box with the nation's economy and their own job prospects top of mind. It's critical that leaders on both sides of the partisan divide recognize that U.S. mobile policy is a poster-child for just the sort of forward momentum the President and leaders in Congress are seeking to gather to get the nation back on a healthy and sustainable job growth track.
President Obama and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski have amassed a strong track record in support of mobile innovation, which today puts 2.4 million Americans to work. The crown jewel of these efforts has been their press for more spectrum to power the next wave of mobile Internet-fueled growth.
And, particularly with the Department of Justice's recent aggressive stance with regard to the AT&T/T-Mobile merger, all eyes are on what comes next: Will U.S. innovation policies become more restrictive or continue to build on the proven success of consumer-guided progress coupled with light-touch regulation? As we look for answers that can create jobs and drive innovation, here are five key questions to watch:
Will consumers get more spectrum for the mobile Internet? President Obama and Chairman Genachowski are right to make today's spectrum crunch a national priority. A recent report by Credit Suisse finds that U.S. wireless networks run at 80% of capacity on a typical day, well above our global competitors. And, this isn't a race we want to win. Analysis by Peter Rysavy finds that without additional spectrum, U.S. wireless networks will run out of capacity within four years. There is no higher innovation policy priority than averting such a disastrous--and avoidable--outcome.
Will policymakers make the connection between spectrum and jobs? If the President is successful in his push for an additional 500 MHz of spectrum to support the mobile Internet, we can create 500,000 American jobs and add $400 billion to the nation's GDP. And, that forecast doesn't include the biggest job creator of all--the 'X-factor' of the next Facebook or Google--that will inevitably arise out of a more spectrum-rich environment. All the government needs to do to nurture this growth (and raise billions in auction proceeds for the U.S. Treasury) is put more spectrum up for sale.
Will the markets see a balanced outcome for AT&T/T-Mo? The Department of Justice's challenge to the AT&T-T-Mobile merger has been met with pointed expressions of concern from Silicon Valley to Wall Street. Matt Murphy of respected Sand Hill Road VC firm Kleiner Perkins noted the move has put tech investment "in stalemate mode." The Administration is right to ask tough questions about the merger. But its ability to avoid a protracted court battle and deliver a timely and constructive outcome will signal to the markets that a steady hand is at the economic helm.
Will regulators' definition of competition keep pace with the market? Even with a combined AT&T/T-Mo, American consumers have far more choices for their mobile service than most of our country's leading global competitors. Many other benchmarks must come into play to get a true gauge of competition. Case in point: The recent revelation that Sprint, with its Clearwire assets, has more spectrum holdings in an average city than both Verizon and a combined AT&T and T-Mobile. This puts into a whole new light Sprint's vocal objections to the merger on the grounds that its market rival doesn't need more spectrum. Clearly, it does to compete.
Will jobs policy value the role of small tech entrepreneurs? Over the past 15 years, small firms created 64% of new jobs in this country. In the tech industry, 40% of workers are employed by small businesses. Without adequate spectrum, these innovators won't have the opportunity to create the next best thing--or the jobs that come with it.
At the beginning of the year, President Obama used his State of the Union address to call on policymakers to "make it possible for businesses to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of all Americans." Now is the time for our leaders--in the Administration and on Capitol Hill--to take concrete steps to make good on that promise and send a clear signal to the market that U.S. innovation policy will remain steady, balanced and constructive. They should start by recognizing that our nation's jobs policy and our innovation policy must be one and the same.
Jonathan Spalter, chairman of Mobile Future, has been founding CEO of leading technology, media, and research companies, including Public Insight, Snocap, and Atmedica Worldwide. He served as an advisor to and spokesperson for Vice President Al Gore during the Clinton administration.
Mobile Future is a 501(c)(4) coalition comprised of and supported by technology businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals dedicated to advocating for an environment in which innovations in wireless technology and services are enabled and encouraged. For a full list of members and sponsors and to learn more about the coalition, go to www.mobilefuture.org.