Last night, President Obama had dinner in Silicon Valley with several local CEOs and VCs. Fresh from his Saturday Night Live appearance, Mark Zuckerberg was one of the guests and appears to be sitting next to the President in pictures of the event.
We do not know what was discussed other than the official statement statement dealing with “proposals to invest in research and development and expand incentives for companies to grow and hire, along with his goal of doubling exports over five years to support millions of American jobs.”
But if I was a Silicon Valley CEO or VC here is what I would have politely told the President: Capital formation for R&D in innovative wireless technologies that need nonroutine approvals, e.g. rulemaking action, is being inhibited by the FCC’s long term inability to resolve such questions on a predictable schedule or a schedule that move anything like “Internet speed”. John Muleta, former chief of FCC/WTB, spoke at my Virginia Tech class recently and presented data on a deliberation time periods comparing new technology approvals with corporate merger (“M&A”) approvals. Both are complex and difficult. But John’s data showed mergers being resolved consistently in 6-12 months while new technology deliberations dragged on for years.
While new technology approvals theoretically are governed by Section 7 of the Communications Act, for almost 30 years now the Commission has tried to dodge this requirement on a consistent basis. In support of the President’s “Startup America” initiative, the Patent and Trademark Office will allow innovators to ask for 1 year turnaround on patent applications. FCC has a longstanding “Informal Timeline” for nominal 6 month deliberation on merger approvals and meets it very well. Shouldn’t it handle its Section 7 mandate as well as it handles mergers and comparable to PTO’s new fast track for patents?
This week the White House proposed The Wireless Innovation (WIN) Fund to provide $1.0 billion to NSF over the next five year for research on experimental wireless technology testbeds, more flexible and efficient use of the radio spectrum, and cyber-physical systems such as wireless sensor networks for smart buildings, roads, and bridges as well as $15.0 million in FY2012 for Enhancing Access to the Radio Spectrum (EARS) that will support research into new and innovative ways to use the radio spectrum more efficiently. The papers I read indicate that generally the federal government is not looking for new spending opportunities and any such spending would be more effective if there were similar private investment – the very thing that is inhibited by FCC’s poor track record in resolving new wireless technology issues.