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NTIA: Small Agency, Big Impact

September 15, 2011 by Lawrence E. Strickling, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and Administrator, National Telecommunications and Information Administration

In the 21st century global economy, America’s competitiveness requires a modern communications infrastructure, a technology-savvy workforce, and public policies that preserve the Internet as an engine for job creation, innovation, and economic growth.  NTIA’s activities–at a cost of about a penny per month for each American–represent a modest yet critical investment in our economic future, one that can pay dividends for decades.

Broadband Internet is an essential ingredient not only for job creation but also for improving education, public safety, and health care. Consider this:

NTIA is a small agency, but we are playing a central role in helping America harness the power of the Internet to meet these national objectives. Our work is focused in three areas: maximizing spectrum use, expanding broadband access and adoption, and policymaking to support the continued growth of the Internet economy.

One of NTIA’s primary duties is to manage the use of spectrum by the many Federal agencies that depend on it to execute vital missions, including national defense, law enforcement, emergency relief, weather analysis, scientific research, and air traffic control functions. At the same time, NTIA is collaborating with the Federal Communications Commission to nearly double the amount of spectrum available for commercial wireless broadband use within 10 years. This technically complex initiative, to make available an additional 500 MHz of spectrum, will support the growing demand by consumers and businesses for wireless broadband services while spurring innovation, investment, and job creation. The last time NTIA identified additional spectrum for commercial use, the spectrum was auctioned and raised billions of dollars for the U.S. Treasury. Well over one-third of NTIA staff is devoted to a wide range of spectrum activities, aimed at promoting the efficient use of this limited resource while protecting vital government operations.
Despite the growing importance of the Internet in daily life, 28 percent of Americans never go online. Many towns and anchor institutions – such as schools, libraries, hospitals, health care facilities, and public safety entities – do not have adequate broadband service.  
To help close this gap, NTIA is overseeing approximately 230 projects nationwide that will deliver more than 100,000 miles of new or upgraded broadband networks, extend broadband access to tens of thousands of community anchor institutions, supply thousands of new or upgraded workstations at public computer centers, and provide free computer and job training for residents.
Funded by the Recovery Act, these grant projects will also prime the pump for additional private sector investment as other broadband providers use public-funded facilities to deploy new or improved service to additional homes and businesses. In fact, providers have already entered into more than 150 “interconnection” agreements with our grantees.
NTIA is vigorously overseeing the grant projects to ensure they are completed on time, on budget, and deliver the promised benefits to communities. Our rigorous oversight plan is cost-efficient, at a price representing less than one percent per year of the amount of the total grant portfolio; oversight budgets for similarly complex projects have been two to four times larger in other cases elsewhere in the government.
In addition, NTIA publishes the most extensive data on broadband access and adoption in America, helping the research community and others working to bridge the digital divide.  
Internet Policy
As the Internet evolves, new policy and technical challenges emerge. In order to keep the online economy growing, we must preserve the trust of Internet users and foster an environment where American businesses can continue to innovate and compete across borders.

NTIA is working with stakeholders in industry, civil society, academia, and the government to meet these challenges in ways that are timely and flexible. We are addressing a host of issues including online privacy, the global free flow of information, and the stability and security of the Internet, including the domain name system–all with the goal of sustaining an open, interconnected global Internet that remains a force for economic growth.

With these and other activities, we are dedicated to maximizing the benefits of the broadband revolution for America.