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State of Our (Mobile) Union

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OBAMA

Winning the future, the theme of the State of the Union address, called for "out-innovating, out-educating, and out-building the rest of the world." President Obama rightly emphasized wireless broadband as a crucial building block for a winning economy.

After declaring this our country's "Sputnik moment," the president went on to declare a bold and ambitious goal that "within the next five years, we'll make it possible for businesses to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of all Americans. This isn't just about faster Internet or fewer dropped calls. It's about connecting every part of America to the digital age." Given the transformative power of mobile broadband, this is a timely goal.

Leading up to the State of the Union, the president recognized the widespread discontent from the private sector regarding overregulation, as well as the urgency for elected officials to help get Americans working again in a 21st century economy that preserves America's place at the forefront of innovation and ingenuity. In his recent op ed published in the Wall Street Journal, President Obama said the key to generating more jobs will be striking the right balance between protecting consumers and nurturing business growth.

The President walked the walk last week, signing an executive order mandating federal agencies to identify and remove outdated regulations that may be "placing unreasonable burdens on business -- burdens that have stifled innovation and have had a chilling effect on growth and jobs."

Innovation by definition is the development of new products, services and methods that affect people on a daily basis and aim to improve quality of life. With innovation at its core, the mobile ecosystem has defied norms and expectations during a time of economic recovery. Last year, mobile trends revealed that consumers did not tighten their purse strings when it came to their pursuit of wireless devices. In fact, mobile had its best year ever, with an explosion in consumer usage across a dizzying array of applications, services and social media platforms. Mobile companies returned the love by continuing to invest more than $20 billion annually despite the economic downturn.

Today's mobile revolution (i.e., that smartphone you can't put down) is largely rooted in Congress' 1993 decision to embrace a pro-innovation framework that favored competition over regulation. Even through revolving Democratic and Republican majorities in Washington, mobile has thrived due to constructive, bipartisan policies that showed rare regulatory restraint and allowed consumers and innovators to shape and direct its progress. As a result, mobile innovation accounts for 2.4 million U.S. jobs and contributes $100 billion annually to U.S. GDP.

In the State of the Union, President Obama reminded us that "the rules have changed." Thirty years ago, we couldn't know that the Internet would spark an economic revolution, nor could we have known just a few years ago that mobile technology would transform the very nature of American innovation.

Mobile entrepreneurs are pushing the envelope every day to develop new products and services that keep pace with consumer demand. But these leading-edge technologies of tomorrow won't make their way to consumers without more wireless capacity. The federal government's ability to identify and bring additional spectrum to the market is a key policy issue that both techies and policymakers are tracking closely.

When we envision winning the future, mobile broadband is leading the way. It is revolutionizing how we do business, socialize, educate and interact as a democracy. As President Obama pointed out,

"It's about a rural community in Iowa or Alabama where farmers and small business owners will be able to sell their products all over the world. It's about a firefighter who can download the design of a burning building onto a handheld device; a student who can take classes with a digital textbook; or a patient who can have face-to-face video chats with her doctor."

Now more than ever, we need policies that preserve and advance the investment and innovation that keep all of this progress flowing to consumers and throughout our society.

If we look to history as our guide, the message is clear: Innovation is what drives our economy and our society to new heights. President Obama should be commended for calling the nation to the cause on Tuesday night. And, I do believe, we will rise to the occasion. Sputnik, after all, may have won the race to space. But it was American ingenuity and ambition that put a man on the moon.

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.

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