In bringing the geekiest in tech to mainstream consumers, Steve Jobs also helped bring it to Washington, D.C. With the launch of the iPhone, Apple changed the mobile industry and forced Washington legislators and the media to address issues such as spectrum policy, early termination fees and mobile privacy, and it even got regulatory agencies involved in app development.
That may explain the statements in response to Jobs’ passing released by a number of D.C. organizations and politicians, including President Barack Obama, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, the CTIA, The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and others. Prior to Apple’s release of the original iPhone in 2007, which set off a wave of innovation and change in the mobile industry (it even got its own chapters in a few FCC-created Wireless Competition reports), most Americans and politicians didn’t care about the “looming spectrum crisis” or worry much about the legality of a device maker blocking applications on its handsets.
With the iPhone, Apple hit D.C.’s radar
From its very introduction, the iPhone grabbed political attention as consumers and rural carriers complained about their inability to get the device, and lawmakers investigated AT&T’s long exclusivity period in the U.S. Nothing changed, but later, the poor experience of the iPhone on AT&T’s network prompted more inquiries and set the stage for concerns over the amount and quality of U.S. spectrum.
But the iPhone also inspired politicos with its easy access to knowledge and communication. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski name-dropped the device in a speech talking about the mobile future early in his tenure. President Obama and other lawmakers regularly tote iPads. And behind the scenes, Apple, while not an outsized lobbying presence in Washington, has an influence on patent reform, privacy and other policy issues. Politico reports that Apple has spent just over $1.3 million so far this year — up from $890,000, which Apple had spent in the first three quarters of 2010.
That increase in spending may be a result of an increase in federal scrutiny. This year an Apple executive testified before Congress on location sharing in Apple devices, a continuation of politicians worried about digital privacy. All the way back in 2008, lawmakers had called executives from major tech companies such as Google and Microsoft to Washington for answers on how consumers’ data is stored and used, but Apple is a fairly recent invitee.
Apps get scrutiny and use
The FCC has also kept an eye on the company and the openness of its application market since 2008, when it sent AT&T, Apple and Google requests for information on the blocking of the Google Voice application on the iPhone. It turns out it was Apple, not AT&T, blocking the application — a situation that was resolved without further FCC action. Federal curiosity with apps is still prevalent as politicians use the mobile programs for fund-raising, and agencies also eye the ability of mobile devices to change the scope of their authority. For example, the FDA is keenly interested in mobile applications that purport to monitor consumers’ health and medical conditions.
However, among Washington circles, the FCC’s decision to interfere in the ability of an application to get on a mobile device was seen as overreaching by the agency, which governs the airwaves and wireline infrastructure but not the apps running over them. It opened the door to questions of how relevant the agency would be as mobile broadband became more prevalent while the governing of those networks became more hands off.
The FCC is still in charge of spectrum allocation, an area where the introduction of the iPhone and the App Store may have created the greatest change. The easy computing experience and bite-sized apps have enabled average Americans to become mobile bandwidth hogs, a situation that only got worse as Android phones and apps arrived, and then later the iPad. Before 2008 or so, spectrum was a wonky topic discussed by network engineers, telecom gear makers and mobile operators but not the general public. But now President Obama is discussing plans to take back America’s TV airwaves to help create a nationwide LTE network, and AT&T is attempting to buy T-Mobile in order to get its hands on the smaller company’s airwaves.
So Steve Jobs’ legacy in D.C. will most likely be felt behind the scenes in a push for more spectrum and an acceptance of mobile broadband as a decent substitute for wired broadband, thanks to the ease with which consumers can access web content on the devices Jobs ushered into existence.