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Want to Learn about the App Economy? There’s a Senate Subcommittee Hearing for That

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TPI’s Dr. Sarah Oh appeared as one of the Witnesses

The Senate Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet hosted a hearing on the app economy on May 15, 2018.

The hearing, “There’s an App for that: Trends in Mobile Technologies,” examined the growth and future of the $950 billion app economy. TPI Research Fellow, Dr. Sarah Oh, was one of the witnesses. During her opening statement as well as through her answers to the senators’ questions, Dr. Oh made a compelling case about the need for a flourishing app market and Congress’s role in promoting continued development in the relevant ecosystem. In particular, she urged Congress to promote investment in underlying infrastructure by making more government-controlled spectrum available for civilian uses, continuing to promote spectrum auctions, encouraging 5G rollout, and providing better stewardship of the Universal Service Fund.

Dr. Oh was joined by Mike Forster, Chairman, Innovate Mississippi, and Founder, Mississippi Coding Academies; Roger Koch, Chief Executive Officer, Shield Group Technologies; and Morgan Reed, President, ACT – The App Association.

Dr. Oh emphasized the importance of the app economy:

“The app economy is an important source of economic growth… Mobile connectivity and apps create new markets and make existing markets more efficient, thereby promoting growth. However, some app innovation has raised questions related to privacy, connectivity, and artificial intelligence. The right policy responses require clearly identifying the problems we wish to solve and thinking carefully about the costs and benefits of any proposals.”

While the senators on the subcommittee disagreed with each other in some respects, such as how to trade off privacy versus data sharing, they generally agreed on several topics, including the need for investment in broadband infrastructure and workforce transition.

Dr. Oh also highlighted the complexity of the app economy, stating that, “as easy as it is for us to click our app buttons, apps call on a massive and deeply complex infrastructure to deliver goods and services. Server farms, cell towers, coders, math students, and labs dedicated to research and development all work behind the scenes to deliver the apps that are simple and easy to use.”

Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), the chairman of the subcommittee also focused on broadband deployment and education, stating that, “in addition to prioritizing the deployment of broadband infrastructure, workforce development is critical to growing the app economy. Maintaining a trained and skilled workforce will help meet industry needs and ensure that the United States remains a leader in the global digital economy.”

Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), the subcommittee’s ranking member, questioned whether apps are really bringing the kind of benefits we imagined they would: “This hearing takes place during an important debate about whether technology is in fact bringing the positive change that we hoped for…We haven’t yet fully realized the potential of these technologies and I personally worry that too many companies are focused on the wrong problems and the wrong questions.”

On spectrum policy, Senator Hassan (D-NH) asked if “additional spectrum is necessary to promote the mobile economy.” She asked the question in reference to a bill that she co-sponsored with Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) called the AIRWAVES Act, which requires the FCC to complete auctions during each of the next three calendar years with 10% of auction proceeds going toward wireless infrastructure in underserved or unserved areas.

Dr. Oh responded to her question, noting that, “Congress is one of the only bodies that can actually push federal spectrum out to the private sector, and every legislative act that does so is really good for the economy. 20 years from now, the app economy is going to be devices and the Internet of Things and so any way you can release spectrum now…is a good thing.”

In Senator Hassan’s follow-up question on what the federal government in general and Congress in particular can do to promote rural broadband access, Dr. Oh responded that, “The [high-cost program of the] Universal Service Fund…is $4 billion every year. What this group can do is take a closer look at where the money is going and see if we are getting the best bang for our buck…More studies and more inquiries to the FCC” would help extend the effectiveness of the fund.

As for the importance and future of the app economy, there’s now been a hearing for that.

Dr. Oh’s full written testimony can be found here.

Do you love your apps? Want to learn more about the infrastructure that will power them in the future? What about which rules apply to platforms? Join us in Aspen August 19 – 21 as we examine these and many other pressing tech policy questions. TPI’s Aspen Forum brings together leaders from business, government and academia to discuss and debate key public policy issues affecting innovation, technology, and communications.