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Remarks of Deputy Assistant Secretary Simpson at PLI/FCBA Telecommunications Policy & Regulation Institute

December 13, 2013

Angela Simpson
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information
PLI/FCBA Telecommunications Policy & Regulation Institute
Washington, D.C.
December 5, 2013

- As prepared for delivery-

Thank you to the folks at the Practicing Law Institute and the FCBA for inviting me to speak to you today on behalf of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).  

I joined NTIA in 2009 and have served as the Assistant Secretary’s advisor on the DTV transition, international policy, domestic policy, spectrum, and broadband at various times – and sometimes multiple times. I’ve been wearing two hats for the past several months as acting Deputing Assistant Secretary and Chief of Staff.  Recently I’ve been very focused on the more nuts and bolts issues facing the agency, including the government shutdown.  But I feel well equipped to share the work that we have been doing this past year and forecast our plans for 2014.  I’m happy to be here today, and it makes me think of when I first started in private practice fresh out of law school.  I thought how nice it would be to attend this meeting to get to hear from experts on communications issues.  I don’t think I got to go for several years.  Speaking at this meeting now is icing on the cake.

In 2013, NTIA’s work focused on:

  • Delivering high-capacity broadband service to Americans and expanding digital literacy skills needed to adopt those services;
  • Freeing up additional spectrum for commercial wireless broadband services;
  • Assisting the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) with its early-stage efforts to plan for and build a nationwide public safety broadband network;
  • Preserving the multistakeholder model for addressing Internet policy and governance issues; and
  • Protecting consumers’ privacy in the digital era.

In June, a new Secretary took the helm of Commerce, Penny Pritzker, who quickly established that she shares NTIA’s commitment to innovation and ensuring that the United States’ digital economy remains second to none.   She is putting a strong focus on leveraging and coordinating all of the Commerce Department’s resources and serving as the Administration’s champion of U.S. companies, both here and abroad.   This extends to issues ranging from repurposing federal spectrum allocations, to the foreign trade environment or online intellectual property rights of some of your clients, to cybersecurity, to protecting the free and open nature of the Internet –  all to ensure we maximize innovation and economic growth. 

In a nutshell, we’ve made great progress this year, in spite of our budget woes, but there’s much more to be done in 2014 and beyond.  I’ll dig into each of NTIA’s major policy areas, provide some insight on the accomplishments we’re thankful for, and foreshadow what I think will be big in each area for 2014.


First, I’d like to touch on our work to promote broadband across the country.  NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, or BTOP, and the State Broadband Initiative projects, together invest over $4 billion to expand broadband access and adoption across the country. These broadband programs are at the forefront of the Administration’s push to establish the broadband foundation needed to support the innovation economy of the future – one that produces new and better jobs and positions the United States to remain competitive in the 21st Century.  

This past year was a gangbuster year for BTOP.  Cumulative through 2013 the approximately 230 projects:

  • installed more than 46,000 workstations in public computer centers, exceeding the total program goal;
  • deployed or upgraded more than 110,000 miles of broadband infrastructure, exceeding the total program goal;
  • connected more than 20,000 community anchor institutions to high-speed broadband Internet service; and
  • generated approximately 625,000 new broadband Internet subscribers.

Our grant recipients are delivering on their promises to create jobs, stimulate economic development, spur private-sector investment, and open up new opportunities in employment, education, and healthcare. 

The BTOP projects saw significant construction of broadband infrastructure and expansion of digital literacy training and outreach.  As for the State Broadband Initiative, state task forces worked together across multiple industries and sectors to build state broadband plans, and local teams are taking action to implement those plans.  They also worked on the data collection and validation for the National Broadband Map.

The State Broadband Initiative projects will continue through the end of 2014, but most of the BTOP projects will be closed or winding down.  We at NTIA spent a lot of time over the past year discussing “what’s next” – more specifically, because the issue is so important, how can we keep leveraging our experience and skillsets to further promote broadband and digital literacy after BTOP?  We already have taken action to do things like spread and share best practices.  In May, for example, we released a Broadband Adoption Toolkit to share best practices developed from about 100 broadband adoption and digital literacy projects funded by our broadband grant program.  We’ll expand on these activities in 2014 and build on the success of the Broadband Adoption Toolkit by collaborating with grantees and stakeholders to identify scalable and actionable projects that communities and organizations across the country can replicate or repurpose to meet their local needs.   Our goal is leveraging our lessons learned to support new places or entities that see the power technology and broadband have to improve lives.

We also look forward to staying active in policy issues related to broadband, such as the President’s multifaceted ConnectED initiative announced in June to usher the country’s K-12 schools into the digital age.  We look forward to working with the FCC, the Department of Education, and all other stakeholders to achieve the president’s goal of ensuring that 99 percent of U.S. students have access to next-generation broadband within the next five years.  The lessons we’ve learned from BTOP and the approximate 10 percent of U.S. schools BTOP connected provide important inputs on successfully approaching the connectivity piece of the ConnectED equation.


Another core focus of NTIA continues to be management of the federal government’s use of spectrum.  Spectrum is a finite, precious resource and it seems everyone wants it.  The government uses it to protect the borders, predict storms, and keep us safe.  Industry uses it for proliferating smartphones, tablets, Wi-Fi devices, and whatever the next big wireless innovation will be.  We recognize the important role spectrum plays in continued innovation, job creation, and economic growth, and we are moving aggressively to enhance spectrum efficiency and enable access to more spectrum for consumer services and applications.  It is a high-value, high-stakes commodity, so it gets a lot of policy attention. 

The recurring issues NTIA faces center around the appropriate balance between accommodating consumer demand and protecting mission critical federal uses of spectrum.  The difficulty differentiating wants from needs, determining “efficient” uses, and finding ways for the government and industry to share information that can have potentially large impacts on auction revenues are at the crux of these issues, from my perspective.

Much work was done in 2013 on this front.  We – NTIA, the FCC, other federal agencies, and industry – made significant progress towards President Obama’s goal of repurposing 500 megahertz of spectrum to wireless broadband use by 2020.  Our Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee (CSMAC) did ground breaking work to explore relocation approaches and spectrum sharing arrangements between federal agencies and industry.   CSMAC, made up of a diverse group of private sector spectrum experts, oversaw five working groups collaborating with federal government representatives to develop recommendations to transition as much as 110 megahertz of spectrum in the 1695-1710 MHz and 1755-1850 MHz bands from federal to commercial use.  These groups spent most of the year tackling these issues. 

Next week, NTIA and the CSMAC working group participants will be going over lessons learned from this experience so we can continue to use it and improve it as we shift to looking at repurposing additional spectrum bands.  The bottom line is that it is imperative that government agencies and the private sector continue to find innovative ways to improve how we promote spectrum efficiency and solve these complex spectrum access issues.

We have been very clear that spectrum sharing must be a key tool in future spectrum reallocation discussions by necessity.  While clearing spectrum bands to make way for new wireless services has been a viable approach for many years, options for relocating incumbent operations are dwindling, getting more expensive, and taking longer to implement.  Sharing, therefore, is something we will keep pushing and pursuing. 

To help those efforts, in June, NTIA and our sister agency, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), announced plans to establish a national Center for Advanced Communications in Boulder, Colorado.  The Center will leverage the critical mass of NIST and NTIA research and engineering capabilities in collaboration to help address a wide range of advanced communications challenges.  Just last month, we co-hosted with NIST the first Innovative Spectrum Sharing Technology Day.  We brought together about a dozen companies, from early-stage startups to large communications companies, to showcase advances in spectrum sharing technologies.  They demonstrated that sharing isn’t just “pie-in-the-sky” technology, but is possible today.

A gating issue in much of 2013’s spectrum work has been a different type of sharing – information sharing.  Agencies constantly contend with data not releasable because it contains classified or non-public information.  Industry faces similar challenges with sharing proprietary and other confidential information with NTIA, other federal agencies, and among themselves.  More information is needed because it enables more informed policy recommendations. 

The Department of Defense and key industry players made some good progress under negotiated non-disclosure agreements to foster the exchange of information about the characteristics of various wireless systems.  But to ensure the most efficient use of spectrum and maximize spectrum for commercial broadband, we will be working for a simpler and more predictable approach to these information access concerns in 2014. 

In 2014, NTIA will build on 2013’s progress, bolstered by the President’s direction last summer for federal agencies to accelerate shared access to spectrum.  In 2014, look for government/industry collaboration on sharing to extend to transition analysis and additional spectrum bands, and look for the CSMAC to delve into new issues related to:

  • Improved forms of sharing;
  • Quantifying actual spectrum use;
  • New forms of spectrum management;
  • Providing the government greater flexibility and options through access to non-federal bands; and
  • Paying for costs of spectrum sharing when there are no auction revenues to cover government expenses. 

Also look for additional breakthroughs on how stakeholders exchange information with each other, and for developments from the Center for Advanced Communications.  And like many of you, we also are interested in how the FCC’s upcoming spectrum auctions shape up, in part because auction revenue will help fund FirstNet.


The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 created FirstNet, an independent authority within NTIA charged with establishing a nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety.   We were so happy for this important legislation, and have been very busy assisting FirstNet with related administrative, operational, and policy issues ever since.

The FirstNet Board hit the ground running and has been incredibly active to jump start the effort.  Board members often filled dual roles – their traditional Board positions as well as management roles.  This proved to be particularly valuable to help members with more traditional industry experience learn firsthand about public safety community needs from the network.  In April, the FirstNet leadership team began falling into place, and we’re seeing significant growth and progress on that front. 

FirstNet spent much of 2013 reaching out to the public safety community of future users.  It established its 41-member Public Safety Advisory Committee; met with all 56 states and territories; visited disaster sites to gather lessons learned and insights on broadband needs and interoperability challenges; engaged the federal user community; and has been seemingly non-stop making the connections needed for a foundation to succeed. FirstNet has also been extremely active gathering input from industry stakeholders.  It issued 12 requests for information on subjects ranging from potential network deployment options, wireless devices, and most recently mobile application platforms for public safety.  The response to these RFIs will help FirstNet deliver the best public safety network possible. 

FirstNet also spent significant time in 2013 working with the handful of BTOP 700 MHz projects whose funding was partially suspended following enactment of the law creating FirstNet, with the goal of turning the BTOP projects into pilots for FirstNet’s activities.  Groundbreaking negotiations for FirstNet spectrum leases resulted in some of the projects being able to move forward with FirstNet using BTOP funds.  For example, Los Angeles and New Mexico will help FirstNet obtain early mover perspectives for the nationwide network and gather lessons learned on issues such as priority access, local control and customization, border issues, sharing between federal and state public safety users, and emerging Long Term Evolution (LTE) technologies.   These early projects will provide valuable inputs into the nationwide public safety broadband network.  For those projects not moving forward with FirstNet, NTIA will continue working with them to find ways to allow them to use their BTOP funds to benefit public safety users in their communities.

As part of the law creating FirstNet, Congress also created a grant program administered by NTIA to help states and territories plan for the national public safety broadband network.   Through the State and Local Implementation Grant Program, 54 states and territories were awarded $116 million in grants in 2013.  They are using the money to support their planning, consulting, and outreach activities as they work with FirstNet on its historic task.

It is crystal clear that 2014 will be an extremely busy public safety year for FirstNet and NTIA.  In 2014, FirstNet will prioritize issues related to its business foundation, partnerships, statutory mandates, BTOP public safety projects, mobile network solutions, and devices.  This is critical to stretching the $2 to $7 billion Congress made available to FirstNet.  FirstNet will also be very active on the consultation and outreach fronts, and the SLIGP grantees will be providing significant inputs into FirstNet.  And NTIA will be taking steps to deliver on the additional tasks assigned to it under the Act that are triggered as FirstNet begins notifying the states of their network deployment plans.  I know many folks are trying to engage FirstNet on various policy-intense issues, and I think 2014 will be the year when many of these issues ripen.


Let me now turn to the core of our work on policy issues.  With the exception of spectrum matters potentially involving federal agencies, NTIA doesn’t tend to get involved in many of the FCC policy issues that consume the time of so many of you here today.  But we did get involved in a couple of ways in 2013 that I’d like to flag.  First, we worked to establish the framework for FirstNet’s spectrum license and on its technical and service rules.  We appreciated the FCC’s efforts in this regard to help ensure FirstNet the flexibility it needs to succeed.

Second, we were spurred to action by a “We The People” petition asking the Administration to reverse the Library of Congress’s decision to eliminate an exemption under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that allowed consumers to unlock new mobile phones without carrier permission.  To advance competition and consumer choice in the marketplace for wireless services, we petitioned the FCC to require wireless carriers to unlock mobile phones, tablets, and other devices for use with other carriers upon request. The goal is to protect Americans’ investments in mobile devices by allowing them to use their equipment with any compatible network and to ensure consistency and transparency.  Through FCC action or through industry agreement, we look forward to this being resolved in the near future.

More broadly, NTIA’s primary policy focus for 2013 surrounded efforts to preserve the dynamism and openness of the Internet, enhancing the free flow of information, and strengthening our Internet economy.  If you attended this meeting last year, you might recall Larry Strickling, straight off the plane, talking about the World Conference on International Telecommunications and how participants failed to reach consensus on extending international telecom regulations to the Internet.  We’ve focused a lot of effort in 2013 working to ensure the Internet continues to be an engine of economic growth and innovation is not hindered by top-down, potentially sluggish regulation. 

We continue to work hard globally to promote the multistakeholder model for solving tough policy issues surrounding the Internet.  Whether it be managing the Internet domain name system or developing codes of conduct for protecting consumers’ privacy, we believe an open and inclusive process that resolves issues through consensus is the right approach as opposed to a more traditional regulatory model characterized by rigid processes, inflexibility in finding solutions and,   in many cases,    impasse. Bringing together technical experts, companies, academics, consumer advocates, and other interested parties to find creative solutions to problems using flexible processes is critical to allowing stakeholders to explore the technical and policy dimensions — which are often intertwined —of Internet policy issues. Openness and inclusiveness are conducive to attacking issues with the speed and flexibility required in this rapidly changing environment. 

We push very strongly for multistakeholder processes to address international Internet issues. Our activity in 2013 focused on three primary areas:

  • working to strengthen existing multistakeholder organizations, such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the Internet Governance Forum, to make them as responsive as possible to all stakeholders.
  • expanding stakeholder participation in treaty-based organizations such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
  • Engaging the developing world to understand better whether the existing institutions are meeting their needs and to develop whatever new responses are needed to ensure that they enjoy the economic growth and wealth creation that the Internet has delivered.

We made progress on these fronts, but the issue of governments seeking more control over the Internet is not going away.  Trust is a big topic of discussion due to this year’s surveillance disclosures, and the Administration is working actively to address concerns raised by those disclosures.  One concrete example is recent threats to the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework that has enabled transatlantic trade, data flows, and the protection of EU citizens’ privacy for over a decade.  As the global economy increasingly relies on data, we must identify more effective ways to protect data and more efficient ways to legally transfer data.  We also must ensure that markets have confidence in these regimes, and that they do not create unnecessary uncertainty for our companies or consumers.

It is imperative we recognize the broader context of these issues, and protect the global data flows so important to the economy.  2014 may very well be a pivotal year for Internet governance.  We welcome efforts such as the High Level Panel on the Future of Global Internet Cooperation that was announced in November.  It is a cross section of government, industry, academia, and other stakeholders focusing on Internet governance challenges and principles for global Internet cooperation.  Brazil also recently announced plans to host a summit in April examining the further evolution of global Internet collaboration. We welcome this effort and many other events planned for next year focused on issues related to Internet governance.  All of these issues will likely continue to ratchet up as ITU Plenipot next fall draws near.  And NTIA will be on the front lines of this activity. 

We also support multistakeholder processes for Internet policymaking domestically.  In 2013, we made progress implementing the White House’s blueprint to safeguard consumers’ privacy protections in the information age.  For example, the Obama Administration continues to develop the baseline consumer privacy legislation called for in the Blueprint. 

NTIA also convened stakeholders to develop a code of conduct to improve privacy notices on mobile devices. In July, the stakeholders celebrated an important milestone when they agreed to begin testing and implementing this code on mobile app transparency.  This demonstrated that a multistakeholder process to develop these types of codes of conduct can work.  And so we are moving forward with our next multistakeholder process.  

Earlier this week, we launched a new privacy multistakeholder process on commercial use of facial recognition technology. Facial recognition technology uses software to help identify a person based on a digital image. It has the potential to improve services for consumers, support innovation by businesses, and affect identification and authentication online and offline. However, the technology poses distinct consumer privacy challenges.  The first meeting exploring facial recognition technology will be held on February 6, and we expect to hold future meetings through the spring and summer.  Hopefully we will have more multistakeholder policymaking workstreams teed up in 2014 as well. 


In large part, I think next year for NTIA will be a year of operationalizing the ideas developed over the last few years and continuing to push to realize our existing policy goals.  There will also be some reinvention as programs wind down, others start up, and unforeseen circumstances arise.

So much of the work we’re doing doesn’t fit into traditional regulatory/policy legal buckets, with multistakeholder processes, industry-government information sharing, or translating the Middle Class Tax Relief Act into a nationwide public safety broadband network.  But significant policy issues face us.  I look forward to working with you all on these issues.

Thank you very much.