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NTIA Recap of 2012 and Look Ahead to 2013

December 27, 2012 by Deputy Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information Anna M. Gomez

As 2012 draws to a close, I would like to take a moment to think back on some of the major things we’ve accomplished and then look forward to what we have on our plate for 2013.

Internet.  In 2012, NTIA kept busy on issues spanning all areas of communications.  On the Internet policy front, we focused on facilitating multistakeholder work on how mobile applications handle consumer data privacy.  I commend NTIA staff and all of the interested stakeholders for their tireless work – seven meetings and five stakeholder-organized tech briefings – over the last six months to proactively address this issue.  In addition to cultivating a multistakeholder model for consumer data privacy, we also devoted significant energy in 2012 to preserving the successful multistakeholder model for a free, open, and innovative Internet globally.  This culminated in an NTIA team putting their personal lives on hold for a month and dedicating 24/7 to activities in Dubai for the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT).  The WCIT failed to reach consensus on revising the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs), but the U.S. delegation never wavered in its commitment to protecting the Internet from top-down government regulation. 

Broadband.  On the broadband front, our $4 billion in Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and State Broadband Initiatives projects tallied up very impressive numbers in 2012.  These projects cumulatively deployed or upgraded 78,000 miles of infrastructure, connected more than 11,200 community anchor institutions, installed more than 38,600 computer workstations, and generated over 500,000 new broadband subscribers.  NTIA updated the National Broadband Map twice in 2012, each time increasing the functionalities and focusing more clearly on the broadband picture throughout the United States.

Spectrum.  Managing the federal government’s use of spectrum continued to be an NTIA key focus in 2012, as we work to fulfill the President’s goal of nearly doubling the amount of spectrum available for commercial broadband.  We know that the United States’ competitiveness and global technology leadership depend on the availability of spectrum – the lifeblood of smartphones, tablets, and other wireless communication devices – but we also need to protect mission-critical capabilities.  So NTIA is exploring innovative approaches that would allow federal and non-federal users to share the same swaths of spectrum.  This year, we have taken great strides to work side-by-side with agencies and industry to creatively solve complicated and crucial spectrum access problems. To date, NTIA has identified 210 megahertz of federal spectrum for potential commercial use on a shared basis.  Adding to the 115 megahertz from the 1695-1710 MHz band and the 3.5 GHz band from our October 2010 “Fast-Track” report, in March of this year, NTIA issued a report evaluating 95 megahertz of prime spectrum in the 1755-1850 MHz band for potential commercial broadband use. 

Public Safety.  We spent much of 2012 implementing the key spectrum and FirstNet provisions from the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which President Obama signed into law in February.  Creating an independent authority charged with establishing a nationwide wireless broadband public safety network is certainly uncharted territory.  When complete, it will enable police, firefighters, emergency services personnel, and others in public safety to better communicate with one another during emergencies, improving response time, keeping communities safe, and saving lives.  Acting Commerce Secretary Blank appointed the FirstNet Board in August, and all involved have been hard at work ever since.   

Looking Forward.  NTIA will likely be even busier in 2013 than 2012.  Some projects will be wrapping up, others will see continued momentum, and some new initiatives are on the horizon. 

We expect the consumer data privacy multistakeholder work on establishing a code of conduct on mobile application transparency to conclude successfully, and the stakeholders to move on to other business contexts.  Meetings have already been scheduled for: January 17, January 31, February 21, March 14, and April 4.  We also stand ready to work with Congress to enact baseline privacy rights through legislation.  

We expect the majority of our broadband grant projects to wrap up by the fall, and we look forward to celebrating the successes of the projects and moving the needle on broadband deployment and adoption in the United States.  We will also further leverage these investments by disseminating widely best practices and maximizing the capacity-building power of the state broadband offices funded by the State Broadband Initiative.  We want to take further advantage of the skill sets and expertise NTIA staff has developed and the lessons learned that can facilitate broadband expansion and digital literacy nationwide.

We also will continue to work on spectrum sharing and fulfilling the President’s 500 megahertz goal , including completing the Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee (CSMAC) working group activities and analyses of existing bands, and moving on to new activities.

Early next year we expect to issue requirements for a new $135 million State and Local Implementation Grant Program to support state, regional, tribal, and local jurisdictions’ planning work with FirstNet to ensure the nationwide public safety broadband network meets their wireless public safety communications needs.  NTIA will continue to assist FirstNet as it engages in significant consultation work with these jurisdictions and other key stakeholders.   

Beyond these high-profile activities, I note that NTIA staff is hard at work on myriad other projects and tasks that might not make the news, but that are the foundation of communications policy and the work of the government.  I honor their dedication and service.