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Remarks by Assistant Secretary Strickling at the PLI/FCBA Telecommunications Policy & Regulation Institute

December 04, 2014

Remarks by Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
PLI/FCBA Telecommunications Policy & Regulation Institute
Washington, DC
December 4, 2014

--As prepared for delivery--

I want to thank the Practising Law Institute and the Federal Communications Bar Association for inviting me to speak to you today.  Every year, we at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) look forward to this conference as an opportunity to provide an update on our priorities for the coming year.  NTIA, as most of you know, is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce and we serve as the principal advisor to the President on telecommunications and Internet policy issues.

Earlier this year, Secretary Penny Pritzker released the strategic plan of the Department of Commerce.  One of the key goals of this plan is to strengthen the nation’s digital economy by:

  • expanding digital infrastructure,
  • developing capabilities to ensure the continued development of the online marketplace; and,
  • crafting policies that will leverage the Internet to spur economic growth and innovation.

NTIA is the goal leader for this initiative, which brings together our work on spectrum, broadband and Internet policy as well as the activities of other Commerce agencies such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology.  We manage the federal uses of wireless spectrum to make the most efficient use of this precious resource.  We are expanding broadband access and adoption nationwide to help close the digital divide.  And we play a central role in shaping Administration policies on complex issues of international Internet governance, online privacy and data security to maintain consumer trust in the Internet and protect the digital economy.

Today, I would like to spend a few minutes talking about three major priorities for 2015:

  • First, we will promote spectrum sharing as a key part of our ongoing efforts to find more spectrum for commercial wireless broadband;  
  • Second, we will continue to expand broadband access and adoption to help close the digital divide; and
  • Third, we will support and strengthen the bottom-up, consensus-based approach to Internet governance known as the multistakeholder process, which has allowed the Internet to flourish and thrive.

I will start with an update on our efforts to promote spectrum sharing as an important part of spectrum management policy in the years to come.  Identifying enough spectrum to keep up with the exploding demand for mobile bandwidth, and making it available for licensed and unlicensed commercial wireless services, is a top priority for NTIA.  But this effort is complicated by the fact that federal agencies also rely on this precious and finite resource to perform all sorts of mission-critical functions, like tracking storms, protecting our borders and safely navigating planes.  To meet the rapidly expanding needs for more spectrum by both industry and government agencies, we must solve the challenge of how we can share spectrum.

The President challenged us in 2010 to make available 500 megahertz of federal and non-federal spectrum for wireless broadband by 2020.  Working with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), NTIA has made good progress toward this goal.  We have formally recommended or otherwise identified 335 megahertz of spectrum for potential reallocation.  That number includes coveted spectrum in the 1695-1710 and 1755-1780 bands the FCC is now auctioning in its AWS-3 auction, which by all accounts is a huge success.  With bids approaching $40 billion, there is much to celebrate.

But as we continue to review spectrum bands for reallocation, spectrum sharing is becoming the new reality.  Out of necessity, where it costs too much and takes too long to relocate federal systems, we are moving beyond the traditional approach of clearing federal users from spectrum in order to auction it to the private sector for its exclusive use.  In 2015, we will be exploring spectrum-sharing opportunities in several bands.

We are working with the FCC to explore the possibility of making 100 megahertz of spectrum available for shared small cell use in the 3.5 GHz band, which is currently used primarily for military radar systems.  This could be an important pivot point toward a new paradigm of sharing.  We are evaluating the feasibility of increased sharing by unlicensed devices in the 5 GHz band.  And as directed by the President, we have tasked federal agencies to conduct quantitative assessments of their spectrum usage in five bands accounting for 960 megahertz of spectrum to help us prioritize bands for detailed sharing feasibility studies.

To support all these efforts, we are working to increase transparency into existing federal spectrum use.  In April, NTIA unveiled a new online tool at  This tool provides a band-by-band description of federal spectrum uses between 225 MHz and 5 GHz.  In the year ahead, we will continue to improve that tool to make it more easily searchable and more user-friendly, and to provide as much helpful data as we can while protecting classified information.

If this vision of spectrum sharing is to ever become reality, though, we all need to work together to build trust on multiple levels.  We need to build trust in the technology; build trust between the public and private sectors; and build trust in the policies and processes.  Let me explain what I mean.

First, we need to build trust in dynamic spectrum-sharing technology that can coordinate spectrum operations among multiple users and guard against interference.  From smart radios that can sense which frequencies are available for use to spectrum databases that can track who are already using specific bands, we need to build acceptance of new technologies to facilitate sharing.

Dynamic sharing technology is a major focus of our new Center for Advanced Communications (CAC) in Boulder, a partnership with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), one of our sister agencies at the Commerce Department.  The center will be able to conduct vital interdisciplinary research, development and testing of radio frequency technology to enable spectrum sharing.  The CAC is also establishing a national network of federal, academic and commercial test facilities to test, model and analyze spectrum-sharing technology.

Second, trust between the public and private sectors is essential to making sharing work.  As we move forward, NTIA will be increasing engagement with industry to develop this trust.  With the help of our Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee, we are finalizing the details of a government and industry collaboration plan that we hope to announce soon.

Finally, we need to build trust in the policies and processes that must be put in place to ensure that everyone – public and private sector alike - plays by the rules.  Our proposed model city initiative will provide a good opportunity to develop these policies and processes.  Last summer, in partnership with the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology, NTIA asked the community whether we should establish a “model city” to serve as a test bed to demonstrate and evaluate advanced spectrum sharing technologies.  This would fulfill a recommendation of a groundbreaking 2012 report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.  We have received very positive comments on the proposal from industry groups and a handful of cities, including the District of Columbia.  We are studying those comments now to determine how we can effectively demonstrate the potential of spectrum sharing in a real-world environment.

Overall, we expect 2015 to be a very busy year for our spectrum activities.

Next, I want to update you on NTIA’s ongoing efforts to continue the expansion of broadband access and adoption.  We all understand how important it is that all Americans be able to participate in our modern digital society.  NTIA is at the forefront of federal efforts to ensure that all Americans share in the promise and potential of the digital economy.

As many of you already know, NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program invested more than $4 billion in grants to build network infrastructure, establish public computer centers, and develop digital literacy training to expand broadband adoption.  We also created the national broadband map in partnership with the FCC through our State Broadband Initiative. 

To date, our grantees have built or upgraded more than 113,000 miles of fiber (enough to circle the world more than four times) and connected nearly 25,000 community anchor institutions, such as schools and libraries.  Our grantees have established or upgraded 3,000 public computer centers, trained more than 4 million people and helped roughly 735,000 households sign up for broadband.  Our State Broadband Initiative Program has supported more than 200 local broadband planning teams across the country.

The grants are winding down and we are looking ahead and determining how we can continue to assist communities who need to expand their broadband infrastructure or increase adoption of broadband by their citizens.  Our broadband team has accumulated immense knowledge and expertise by managing the Recovery Act grants.  By building on that collective wisdom, we can help communities expand broadband even without offering grant money. 

For example, we will share the lessons learned and best practices developed by those projects.  We will use everything from toolkits and training programs, to webinars and workshops, to provide technical assistance, funding leads and basic guidance to communities to build their broadband capacity.  Already, we have published a broadband adoption toolkit that serves as a reference manual for municipalities and other organizations that want to increase the level of adoption in their communities.  The toolkit contains clear, sensible advice, as well as lots of practical ideas and tips, for bringing all sorts of people online – from senior citizens who may never have touched a mouse before to minority populations who might not even speak English.

The toolkit is being put to good use in Kansas City, the first Google Fiber city.  When it became clear that the "take rate" in low-income neighborhoods was not meeting Google’s investment threshold, Google and the Greater Kansas City Foundation created a grant program to fund digital inclusion work by local nonprofits and community organizations.  They are utilizing NTIA’s broadband adoption toolkit to help guide those efforts.

We are now putting together a second toolkit to assist communities that want to increase the level of broadband infrastructure in their areas.  This guide will provide solid and field-tested advice on how to establish effective partnerships, develop useful applications and build projects that will sustain themselves for years to come.

Investing in broadband is a matter of basic equity.  Americans who do not have access to the Internet are increasingly cut off from job opportunities, educational resources, healthcare information, and even government services.  Communities that do not have high-speed infrastructure are increasingly at a disadvantage in attracting new businesses and new jobs and competing in today’s knowledge-based economy.

Since 2009, broadband adoption has increased more than 12 percent in the United States and stands at 72 percent according to our latest reported data.  That is a healthy growth rate but it still means that almost a quarter of U.S. households are not online at home.  

Ninety-nine percent of Americans have access to broadband of 6 to 10 megabits per second.  That is up from 90 percent in June 2010.  More than 90 percent of Americans living in urban areas have access to 25-megabit service but in rural areas, that figure is just 50 percent.

The bottom line is that we have made important strides in expanding broadband access and adoption but there is still work to be done.  And NTIA will be leading the charge.

I will finish up by addressing the challenges and opportunities facing us in 2015 with respect to Internet policy.  Our core mission at NTIA is to ensure that the Internet remains an engine for economic growth, innovation and free expression.

Internationally, the United States has been a vocal advocate of the bottom-up, consensus-based approach to Internet governance known as the multistakeholder model.

The multistakeholder model has enabled the Internet to develop into an engine for innovation, free speech and economic growth.  Under this model, all stakeholders, whether they be from industry, civil society, or government, come together in an inclusive, transparent, accountable forum to make decisions and solve problems.  As the Internet agency, NTIA’s job is to strengthen and promote that model.

In 2014, we have seen a growing acceptance of the multistakeholder model around the world, but particularly in developing countries.  Earlier this year, Brazil hosted the successful NetMundial conference, which brought together a wide range of stakeholders including technical experts, civil society groups, industry representatives and government officials, all on an equal footing with each other.  At this meeting not only did participants agree that Internet governance should be built on democratic multistakeholder processes,” the entire meeting was a demonstration of the open, participative, and consensus-driven governance that has allowed the Internet to develop as an unparalleled engine of economic growth and innovation.

A month later, a High-Level Panel, headed by the president of Estonia, Toomas Ilves released a report once again affirming the power of multistakeholder policy development.  The panel said it “recognizes, fully supports, and adopts the Internet governance principles produced in the NetMundial Statement.”

Most recently, at the International Telecommunication Union’s 2014 Plenipotentiary conference in Busan, Korea, last month, we saw the fruits of all our work to preserve multistakeholder Internet governance.  The United States achieved all of its objectives in Busan, including keeping the ITU’s work focused on its current mandate and not expanding its role into Internet and cybersecurity issues.  The U.S. delegation, led by Ambassador Danny Sepulveda, successfully built consensus across nations to protect the robust, innovative, multi-stakeholder Internet we enjoy today. 

This validation of the multistakeholder model comes at a critical time.  Last March, NTIA announced its intention to complete the privatization of the Internet Domain Name System (DNS), currently managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).  This process began in 1998, when ICANN took over important technical functions related to the domain name system, known as the IANA functions, under a contract with NTIA.  In our March announcement, NTIA asked ICANN to convene a multistakeholder process to develop a proposal to transition the U.S. stewardship role over the IANA functions to the international community. We did this to ensure that the multistakeholder model for DNS coordination continues.

When we announced this transition, we outlined some specific conditions that must be addressed before this transition takes place.  First, the proposal must support and enhance the multistakeholder model of Internet governance, in that it should be developed by the multistakeholder community and have broad community support.  More specifically, we will not accept a transition proposal that replaces the NTIA role with a government-led or intergovernmental organization solution.  Second, the proposal must maintain the security, stability, and resiliency of the domain name system.  Third, it must meet the needs and expectations of the global customers and partners of the IANA services.  And finally, it must maintain the openness of the Internet.

Now that we are eight months past our IANA announcement, it is important to take stock of where this transition stands.

We are pleased that the community has responded enthusiastically to our call to develop a transition plan that will ensure the stability, security and openness of the Internet.  Acting as a facilitator, ICANN announced this summer the formation of a group representing more than a dozen Internet stakeholder communities that will help develop a transition proposal.  As set forth in its charter, the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group is “conduct[ing] itself transparently, consult[ing] with a broad range of stakeholders, and ensur[ing] that its proposals support the security and stability of the IANA functions.”

The community is in the process of developing proposals for the specific IANA functions.  Earlier this week, a working group focused on domain names released a 100-page proposal for community review and comment.  We expect proposals for other of the functions to surface over the next month or so.  The community hopes to submit its transition proposal to NTIA by the end of next July, which would allow us to review the proposal before the current contract expires at the end of September 2015.  I want to emphasize that we did not set a deadline for this transition.  If for some reason the community needs more time, we have the option to extend the current contract for up to four years.

ICANN has also launched a process to examine how to ensure it remains accountable to the global Internet community.  Specifically, this process will examine how ICANN can strengthen its accountability mechanisms to address the absence of its historical contractual relationship with NTIA.  NTIA believes that this accountability process needs to include the stress testing of solutions to safeguard against future contingencies such as attempts to influence or takeover ICANN functions that are not currently possible with the IANA functions contract in place. 

The two work streams on the IANA transition and enhanced accountability are directly linked and NTIA has repeatedly said that both issues must be addressed before any transition takes place. 

I am confident that engaging the global Internet community to work out these important issues will strengthen the multistakeholder process and will result in ICANN’s becoming even more directly accountable to the customers of the IANA functions and to the broader Internet community. 

Getting the transition right will be a major project for NTIA in 2015. 

Beyond our international work, we are promoting the multistakeholder model on the domestic front, too, as we continue our work to implement the Obama Administration’s consumer data privacy blueprint.  The centerpiece of that framework is the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, which lays out high-level principles for protecting consumer data in today’s networked world.  NTIA is using multistakeholder processes to establish voluntary, enforceable codes of conduct to apply the Bill of Rights in specific business contexts.

Earlier this year, we launched a process to craft privacy safeguards for the commercial use of facial recognition technology, which is being embedded in everything from social networking services in the virtual world to building access systems in the physical one.  And NTIA’s first multistakeholder process marked an important milestone last year when stakeholders agreed to begin testing and implementing a code of conduct to improve privacy notices on mobile devices.  The code calls for apps to provide short-form privacy notices – designed to fit on a small screen – that disclose how they collect, use and share consumer data.  Intuit, Lookout, AVG and others have already incorporated the new mobile privacy notices into their apps, which reach more than 200 million active users.  And Microsoft has pledged to roll it out soon.  We are especially pleased that the App Developers Alliance, the Association for Competitive Technology, and TRUSTe have also made open source software available to help small app developers create mobile privacy notices based on the new code of conduct.

As you can see, we have a busy agenda for next year at NTIA.  But before I close, I want to say a few brief words about the First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet.  In early 2012, Congress passed legislation calling for the construction of a nationwide, interoperable wireless broadband network for public safety first responders.

The network, a key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, will allow police officers, fire fighters, emergency medical workers and other first responders to communicate across agencies and jurisdictions.  FirstNet, an independent authority housed within NTIA, is in charge of developing, operating and maintaining the new network.

With support from NTIA, FirstNet has made strong progress this year.  In March, the FirstNet Board adopted a strategic program roadmap.  In that roadmap, FirstNet outlined the milestones it planned to accomplish over the next year, which include beginning formal state consultations; releasing a draft request for comprehensive network proposals; releasing draft requests for proposals on certain network and equipment; and initiating a public notice and comment process on program procedures, policies and statutory interpretations.

The state consultations have begun which will result in the development of a detailed network plan for each state.  NTIA is supporting these efforts through a state grant program that is helping stakeholders prepare for the new network.  In addition, FirstNet has been collecting information and recommendations from the industry about how best to develop the network and has completed its first notice and comment process on program procedures.  Next year, it expects to release its draft request for proposals to procure the network, which will lead to a formal request for proposals by the end of the year. 

So with that, let me thank you again for allowing NTIA to continue the tradition of addressing this conference.  It is always a privilege to speak to this audience.  We look forward to working with you and your clients in the coming year on any of these critical issues to grow the digital economy.  Thank you for listening.