Jonathan Spalter

Mobile leader discusses global needs in mobile policy and innovation, experience as Young Leader

May 15, 2014

Jonathan Spalter, a 1994 Young Leader, is the chairman of Mobile Future, a coalition of cutting-edge technology and communications companies and a diverse group of non-profit organizations, working to support an environment which encourages investment and innovation in the dynamic wireless sector. The organization's mission is to help inform and educate the public and key decision makers in business and government on the broad range of wireless innovations that are transforming our society and the nation’s economy.

Spalter has a long track record building innovative technology, mobile, internet, and research companies in the U.S, Asia/Pacific, and Europe. He founded the independent investment research company, Public Insight, and was CEO of Snocap, the digital music technology company founded by the creators of Napster. He has held senior management roles at the Paris headquarters of Vivendi Universal, the global media and telecommunications group, where he was group senior vice president in charge of of the company’s public policy and external affairs teams, served as executive vice president of business development and strategy for Vivendi Universal Net, and CEO of company affiliate Atmedica Worldwide.

During the Clinton Administration, Spalter was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate for the position of associate director at the US Information Agency, where he was also appointed chief information officer. He also served in the White House as director of public affairs for the National Security Council, and chief international affairs spokesperson and speech writer for Vice President Al Gore. He also co-founded and chaired the non-profit animation studio Climate Cartoons, which produced media content about global warming. One of its productions recently won the Emmy Award for National Public Service Announcements/Broadband. Early in his career, Spalter held various productions and editorial roles in broadcast and cable – among them, foreign affairs reporter for PBS’ MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. He graduated from Harvard College and Cambridge University.

Read full bioHide bio

Jonathan, we are delighted to have you share your insights with our readers, as we are to have you among our Young Leaders network.

You are the chairman of Mobile Future, a coalition of companies and nonprofit organizations with a key interest in policy that helps advance mobile innovation. Can you tell us more about your business model? What’s Mobile Future’s mission? Why are you based in Washington D.C.?
Mobile Future, the national mobile and wireless association, works to create a policy environment enables increasing levels of innovation and investment in mobile technology in the United States and globally. We count among our members not only among the largest global wireless technology companies but a range of earlier stage enterprises advancing new business models in mobile and wireless technology, along with a range of non-profit organizations that are the beneficiaries of this innovation in areas such as education, public safety, and healthcare. The organization is based in Washington, D.C., where many of the critical policy debates about technology take place. But our footprint of interest and activity extends well beyond the beltway. In fact, I am based in fact in the Bay area in California, where I have been working in the technology sector since our years in Paris.

Why is your focus area spectrum, and what will happen if more spectrum is not made available quickly?
Spectrum -- the invisible broadband airwaves which fuel our wireless devices -- is the lifeblood of our innovation economy, and our increasingly mobile world. Unfortunately, spectrum is a severely limited resource. The vast majority of spectrum is held by governments, and much of that is underutilized. Given current skyrocketing demands for spectrum by consumers, hospitals, schools, and public-safety professionals, we are at serious risk running out of spectrum if we do not put in place sound policies and management approaches. Already many communities are experience spectrum shortages. The impact is not just that we all will be spending more time staring at the dreaded loading symbol of doom on our smartphones. The results will be measured by slower economic productivity. Slower innovation. Less nimble networks. And a drain on our national ability to compete in global markets. That is why we are working closely with the U.S. government, our Congress, and other governments to ensure that thoughtful approaches to spectrum management are put in place before it is too late.

The spread of mobile devices has opened up a variety of security issues for enterprises across the globe. Can you describe interactions between technology companies and government on issues such as surveillance, privacy and cyber security?
The good news is that meaningful industry/innovator/governmental interaction is only accelerating, and leading to more thoughtful and effective approaches to balancing our national-security requirements with our growing need for privacy and personal security in our increasingly networked world. We've much more work to do in this regard. And one important area for development is to encourage more technical background, capacity, and understanding on the part of our regulators, legislators, and governmental officials who design and implement national policy. Those who oversee our technology policy development often are the last to have deep familiarity with the very innovations they oversee. This needs to change.

You are also been a businessman, having held executive positions at the French media company Vivendi Universal. Can you compare the mobile innovation market in France and in the United States?
During our five years in Paris, I had the opportunity to work with incredibly talented colleagues on the vanguard of some of early mobile applications and services as a CEO and executive at Vivendi technology companies. And it was breathtaking to see how rapidly the French innovation community was able to develop and deploy many exciting new technologies and services, especially in the mobile space. Today, much of the center of gravity for mobile innovation has been centered in innovation hubs like Silicon Valley near where I live, and increasingly in Asia, and has been migrating its focus primarily to data applications and services. Today, in fact, U.S. consumers are by far the largest consumers of wireless data globally on a per-capita basis. But many markets, including France's, are catching-up quickly. One huge challenge for the French innovation market (as well as the United States's), is not the enthusiasm or know-how of innovators or consumers, it is the occasional short-sightedness of certain policymakers. Focusing one's time -- as some French policymakers have -- on passing deeply counterproductive laws making it illegal for certain employers to send emails to employees at certain times of the day will not accelerate or enable an environment where technology-driven innovation and entrepreneurship can truly flourish. It will, I fear, have the opposite impact.

You participated in the Foundation’s Young Leaders program in 1994. How was this experience? What have been the advantages of being linked to this French-American network in your professional and/or personal life?
The Young Leaders program has been nothing short of an incredible experience, and has offered me -- very happily -- important lifelong friendships, and meaningful professional relationships on both sides of the Atlantic. It has been a remarkable experience, and its gifts just keep on giving. Carrie and I are lucky to count several of our fellow FAF Young Leaders as extended parts of our family, who we try to visit on our almost annual family trips to France, as well as various parts of the United States.