* Agencies must shift at least two services to apps
* Directive to expand public access to government data
* Groups, analysts say more government airwaves needed
By Jasmin Melvin and Alister Bull
WASHINGTON, May 23 President Barack Obama,
hoping to spur U.S. innovation in the explosive field of mobile
communications, on Wednesday ordered all major federal agencies
to make many more of their services available on mobile phones
within the next year.
"Americans deserve a government that works for them anytime,
anywhere, and on any device," Obama said in a statement.
His administration is eager to hasten government adoption of
new technology since showing itself to be highly tech-savvy
after running a 2008 election campaign that was widely praised
for the innovative way it used the Internet and social media.
Analysts welcomed the move, but voiced scepticism it could
be effective unless Obama also freed up more government
broadband spectrum to the private sector.
"American citizens won't be better served by government
technology and digital services unless more government spectrum
is made available to enable these technologies and services,"
said Mobile Future Chairman Jonathan Spalter.
His coalition includes AT&T Inc, Deutsche Telekom AG's
T-Mobile, Cisco Systems Inc and Qualcomm Inc
The presidential order tells each agency to make at least
two services relied upon by the public available on mobile
phones within 12 months.
What this means in practical terms is a massive expansion in
public access to government data, from healthcare and education
to energy and public safety, which the administration hopes will
boost jobs by encouraging innovation.
But public interest group Free Press said what was really
needed from Obama were communication laws and competition
policies that make broadband more accessible to everyone.
"Government's most important role in this space is not as a
content creator," said Free Press policy director Matt Wood.
The Obama administration also released a new digital
strategy on Wednesday that it said would drive a more efficient
and coordinated delivery of federal services on mobile devices.
This will require agencies to set up websites to provide
online resources for outside developers, and make government
information open and machine-readable by default.
"The initiatives we're launching today will make government
data resources even more accessible to the public and to
entrepreneurs who can turn these data into services," said U.S.
Chief Technology Officer Todd Park.
Analysts said Obama's directive was a logical step to move
government further into the digital world.
"But it also could end up putting more pressure on him to
move more government spectrum into the market to support
wireless broadband," said Guggenheim Securities analyst Paul
In 2010, the administration said it would make 500 megahertz
of spectrum available in the next 10 years for broadband.
The growing use of wireless devices like Apple Inc's
iPad tablet and Google Inc's suite of
Android-powered smartphones has added to the urgency to find
more space on the airwaves.
Mobile Future's Spalter said he was troubled that the
27-page strategy memorandum did not once mention spectrum.
The Federal Communications Commission said earlier in the
month it was ready to work with the National Telecommunications
and Information Administration (NTIA), which manages government
spectrum, to gauge if it was feasible for government users to
share the same spectrum with commercial wireless operators.
U.S. Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel said on a
call with reporters that freeing government airwaves for use by
commercial wireless providers is a conversation the White House
wants to have with the FCC, NTIA and the Commerce Department.
"America as a country is going to be faced with a spectrum
crunch, and we need to really look at opportunities there,"
Medley Global Advisors analyst Jeffrey Silva said the
sweeping government shift to mobile apps may serve as a tacit
heads-up to federal agencies that the administration eyes mobile
broadband as the future of the Internet.
"Still, the power of the presidency and Obama's use of the
bully pulpit do not guarantee that a significant amount of
additional spectrum will be returned by the Pentagon and other
federal departments anytime in the near future," Silva said.
"It will be trench warfare."