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Why the U.S. Stinks at Mobile Payments: Street Whispers

"I don't recall him saying anything about proactively supporting an innovation role," Atkinson told me.  

Egerman has since left the CFPB to start his own mobile payments company, and so he made clear his views no longer can be construed to represent those of the regulator. (A CFPB spokeswoman sent me a speech by a CFPB official that addressed mobile payments in an effort to deflect Atkinson's criticism.)

When I spoke to Egerman, however, he did not conform to the caricature of a regulatory scold who was so interested in protecting consumers that he gave little thought to what they actually might want.

"The CFPB's primary goal is to protect consumers and a lack of innovation can be harmful to consumers," he said.

Still, Egerman says there are challenges in the U.S. that make it more difficult for the government to play a role in getting mobile payments off the ground. In Japan, for example, Egerman estimates NTT DoCoMo commands 60% of the mobile phone market--far more than Verizon (VZ - Get Report) or AT&T (T - Get Report) in the U.S. In other words, if Verizon uses one technology and AT&T uses another, it might be difficult to make mobile payments work.

On the other hand, "you won't find many government agencies strong-arming the private sector to play nice with each other. That's not something we try to do in America. We set the rules and let people fight it out," says the former regulator.

Egerman is well aware that South Korea and Japan--and even Kenya and Afghanistan in some respects--are ahead of the U.S. in making mobile payments work.

Still, Egerman thinks anyone looking for a more activist role from the U.S. government in spurring mobile payments is going to be disappointed.

"I don't think its realistic and I don't think there's a demand for it from the private sector," he says.

-- Written by Dan Freed in New York.

Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.
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