Privacy, spectrum among top mobile issues

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The need for more spectrum has topped the wireless industry's wish lists in recent years.

Mobile industry policy experts on Thursday said cybersecurity, privacy, and spectrum would be among the top issues facing the mobile industry in 2013.

"When I think about the next year, I think the president is focused on moving this economic engine, this dynamo forward," Jim Kohlenberger, former chief of staff at the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Obama administration, said at an event sponsored by Mobile Future, a coalition of tech companies. But he added that "we've got big things we need to do, [such as] getting more spectrum into people's hands. We have to solve important privacy and security challenges."

The need for more spectrum has topped the wireless industry's wish lists in recent years and will continue to do so in 2013 despite steps taken by Congress and the Obama administration to free up more airwaves to fuel Americans' demand for new wireless technologies. These steps include an executive order by the president to find 500 megahertz of spectrum over the next decade for mobile broadband and passage of spectrum legislation that authorized incentive auctions to entice television stations to voluntarily give up some of their spectrum.

"This president has laid out a very aggressive mobile agenda and has begun to execute on it. I think the next four years are really going to be about execution, execution, execution," said Bryan Tramont, a managing partner at Wilkinson, Barker and Knauer who served as chief of staff to former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell.

Some of the challenges the administration will face in implementing its spectrum policies include trying to get federal government users to give up their spectrum for commercial providers and effective implementation by the FCC of the incentive auction process, he said.

While spectrum will continue to be a top concern, other panelists also said privacy and cybersecurity will continue to be challenges in the mobile space that the administration will want to address.

"The priorities that were going to see very soon are going to be around the ideas or issues surrounding cybersecurity and around privacy," Rob Painter, managing director for the venture capital firm Razor's Edge Ventures.

Earlier this year, the administration unveiled a proposal to boost online consumer privacy through a consumer "Privacy Bill of Rights." While the White House called on Congress to implement this proposal through legislation, it also is pushing for industry to implement some of the principles through voluntary industry codes of conduct. The first industry stakeholder effort aimed at developing these codes of conduct is focused on increasing transparency in what data is collected by mobile applications.

Tramont noted that companies that want to do business in the mobile space face a challenging landscape in trying to figure out what kind of information they need to provide consumers about their privacy practices given the different messages coming out of the federal government, states, and industry self-regulatory efforts.

"There is lot of consumer behavior that is shifting around consumer privacy and I think it is a fundamental challenge for us as an industry to make sure we come up with the right path forward," he said.

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