Google's big bet on the mobile future

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The sheer magnitude of the transaction, expected to be approved by the Justice Department and the FCC, offers a much-needed and well-deserved vote of confidence in the power, value and further potential of mobile innovation. It also offers a timely reminder to policymakers that the primary engine of job creation and economic recovery is not government intervention, but private sector risk-taking, investment and exploration of new ideas and business combinations.

In many ways, Google-Moto is a fitting bookend to the seismic news of the spring—AT&T’s planned acquisition of T-Mobile. That move, too, was a bold and essential step to deliver quality mobile Internet to millions of Americans. With consumer usage of the wireless web growing exponentially, service providers need significantly more spectrum assets to ensure their networks can continue to keep pace with their customers and mobile innovators—from Google to Apple to garage-based entrepreneurs—as they race to develop the next big thing.

Government will unquestionably scrutinize these transactions carefully. But ultimately they are just the kind of substantial jolt that can help our information economy mount a sustainable U.S. recovery. Wireless companies invested $24 billion in U.S. infrastructure in 2010 alone. And, the mobile innovation community already supports 2.4 million American jobs.

More spectrum and the broad innovation it sparks will mean more jobs and growth throughout most leading sectors of our economy. In fact, a recent study by the Analysis Group for Mobile Future, found that making an additional 500 MHz of spectrum for the mobile Internet will create an additional 500,000 U.S. jobs and add $400 billion to the nation’s GDP. And, these conservative estimates come with a substantial disclaimer: Analysts believe these bullish figures would be eclipsed by what they can’t predict—the fresh wave of technologies, services, apps and companies that would come from pouring such a solid foundation for the future of the wireless web.

Competition is compelling these robust investment levels, and it comes from all corners today. It was MetroPCS that first offered 4G LTE service in the U.S., and its competitors are now aggressively following suit. Early in the week, there was much fretting over Apple’s perceived dominance in the device market. That summarily quieted down with the news of Google’s counter-move. Today’s wireless market is impossible to define with new entrants announcing new services, products and business opportunities at every turn, driving more innovation and spurring vigorous competition. Everyone has to keep up, and the government has to do its constructive part.

President Obama deserves kudos on focusing a sense of urgency on the spectrum debate. He’s also rightly pivoted in recent days to a jobs conversation centered around spurring innovation and by speeding new technologies to market and to consumers. Talk to date has focused primarily on patent reform. But unlocking more spectrum for the mobile Internet would provide an even greater ripple effect throughout our economy (not to mention generating as much as $64 billion in auction proceeds for the U.S. Treasury).

Right now, candidates across the political spectrum are beginning the process of making clear their agenda to the country. While the many philosophical differences play out in stark relief in the media every day, I believe that Americans of all partisan stripe ultimately are looking for leaders that can bring us together to make meaningful progress. Spectrum is a reliable early litmus test of a strong future U.S. innovation policy—and clear-eyed understanding of what it will take to constructively address voter’s mounting concerns about our economy and the opportunities available to future generations.

Jonathan Spalter, chairman of the Mobile Future Coalition, served as chief information officer at the United States Information Agency during the Clinton administration.

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