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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Redl at the Free State Foundation 11th Annual Telecom Policy Conference

Remarks of David J. Redl
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Free State Foundation 11th Annual Telecom Policy Conference
Washington, D.C.
March 26, 2019

-- As Prepared for Delivery --

Thank you, Randy, for inviting me to speak today.

I appreciate today’s theme of getting law and policy right. This should be the goal of all policymakers, and I know those of us who have relied on Free State’s years of work on communications and economic policy issues certainly have a leg up in this regard.

Today I want to talk about three areas where NTIA is working to get things right: data privacy, spectrum policy and expanding broadband.

Data privacy

On data privacy, this is an issue of great importance to Americans, and protections for privacy date back to our founding.

The Trump Administration has made clear it’s time to take a fresh look at our how we handle privacy when it comes to digital information, and NTIA has taken a lead role in developing the Administration’s policy toward consumer data privacy.

We want to build consensus around a fundamentally American approach to this issue. We’ve been talking with dozens of stakeholders to better understand what the problems are, what we can agree upon, and how we can move forward.

NTIA put out a request for comments as well, and received more than 200 responses. We heard from a range of industries, companies and individuals, including Free State. A few overarching themes emerged from this process.

First, we heard a sense of urgency, and a desire for American leadership on privacy. For consumers and companies, data collection is now part of our everyday lives. This is relatively new, and in time it will only become more central to how we work, play and communicate.

At the same time, the news is dominated by often negative headlines involving data privacy – from hacked baby monitors to data theft to home assistance devices unexpectedly recording your conversations. Any policy we adopt must reflect the changes in the use of data that have transformed consumers’ relationship with technology over the past decade.

Second, there is broad industry consensus that we can’t have a patchwork regulatory landscape within the U.S., and where there are differences internationally, we should take care not to harm the data flows that power the global digital economy.

In the comments from Free State, we heard various ways to improve the Federal Trade Commission’s jurisdiction over consumer privacy. You called the FTC the “preferred agency to enforce privacy protections across all digital platforms.” 

We agree that it is important to take steps to ensure that the FTC has the necessary resources, clear statutory authority, and direction to enforce consumer privacy laws.

Finally, we received many thoughtful, constructive comments on our proposed risk-and-outcomes-based approach. Our work on a risk-based approach is being led by our sister agency NIST.

They are of course known for their Cybersecurity Framework for managing cyber risks, and they’ll be taking the broad outlines of that and applying it to privacy. The result will be a collection of tools that anyone can use to assess and address privacy risks in any regulatory environment.

Focusing on risks and outcomes is preferred to notice-and-consent approaches. It’s well known that few consumers bother to read long legal notices – and it’s our view that giant compliance departments aren’t going to lead to better privacy outcomes for consumers.

We don’t want companies becoming overly reliant on checkboxes and regulators critiquing the web design of privacy notices – they should be spending their time on providing real protections for consumers.

A risks-and-outcomes focus has another benefit, which is it that it doesn’t entrench large, established businesses at the expense of startups and small firms. If the compliance costs associated with data use are prohibitive for small businesses, we may well lose out on the next generation of innovation, not to mention the jobs and economic benefits that small businesses provide.

As the Administration continues to build out our approach, I invite your continued collaboration. In May, NIST will be hosting its second public workshop on the development of the Privacy Framework. It will be held in Atlanta, Georgia, and I encourage all interested stakeholders to participate.

Our challenge is to create a privacy model that ensures Americans trust the technologies in their lives, while guarding against the creation of obstacles to innovation that would harm our economy. A model that ensures privacy and prosperity. We believe this is possible.

We can have real protections for consumers and a thriving market for technologies that use data – a market that’s open to businesses big and small. Our path will give consumers and businesses certainty and confidence to proceed into the next generation of technological innovation.

Spectrum Policy

Turning to spectrum, President Trump made clear that a sustainable approach to managing our nation’s spectrum resources will be critical for our national and economic security in the years to come.

In October, the White House released a Presidential Memorandum on spectrum policy that directed agencies to develop and implement a comprehensive, balanced and forward-looking National Spectrum Strategy, which must be ready by late July of this year.

The goal is to move beyond a narrow focus on piecemeal, band-by-band consideration of spectrum.

In crafting a long-term strategy, NTIA is seeking the data and analyses we need to make strategic decisions for our long-term national security, technology leadership, international competitiveness, and economic prosperity.

We received more than 50 comments in response to our request for feedback, and I again must thank Free State for sharing their well-considered thoughts on this. We’ve also held listening sessions with representatives from various industry and stakeholder groups.

The Presidential Memo also tasked NTIA with a number of other actions that will feed into the Strategy.

We are providing guidance to agencies as they prepare reports on their future spectrum needs. Those reports are due by April 23. We are also helping agencies prepare for the mandated review of their current frequency assignments and quantification of their spectrum usage.

I’d like to give a brief update on another ongoing effort that involves innovative spectrum management techniques.

In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) to accommodate sharing in the 3.5 GHz band between incumbent users — mostly Navy radar systems — and a variety of new commercial users.

NTIA is working with industry and the FCC to develop a technical approach in the 3.5 GHz band that will replace large, static exclusion zones with smaller dynamic protection areas, allowing more efficient federal and non-federal coexistence in the band.

NTIA’s research lab, the Institute for Telecommunication Sciences, or ITS, is leading the test of two key, innovative technologies that are helping to power these dynamic protection areas. ITS has a 100-year history of performing independent research and engineering in telecommunications.

These technologies have acronyms, as you might imagine -- SAS and ESC – spectrum access systems and environmental sensing capability sensors. The ESC sensors are designed to alert the associated spectrum access systems when Federal radar systems are operating in the band, so that the SAS can take immediate action to prevent interference.

ITS engineers has completed lab testing of ESC equipment for a handful of companies that are looking to commercialize the 3.5 GHz band. Work on the SAS side continues, and we are working judiciously to make sharing in this band a reality as soon as possible.

Expanding broadband

Finally, I want to share a little about what the Administration is doing to expand broadband infrastructure, especially in rural areas. We talk a lot about the promise of 5G, the Internet of Things, precision agriculture and more – but even wireless innovations still need physical infrastructure, and in many cases much more than we have in place today.

Across the federal government, the Administration is working to boost private investment and expand broadband connectivity.

In February, the White House launched the American Broadband Initiative, a comprehensive effort to streamline processes, increase funding and make assets available to speed broadband deployment to all Americans. Agencies are working hand-in-hand with the telecom industry to help plan for effective actions. 

For example, USDA is working on innovative ways to bring broadband to rural America, as it implements its ReConnect pilot program. 

The Department of Interior has just made a map available of its towers for co-location. DOI’s map includes thousands of its towers, most in rural areas, that have space available for private companies to lease as they look to expand broadband service to those areas.  

Separately, NTIA is working to improve broadband availability data to better define where new infrastructure is needed across America. Congress last year directed us to build on our previous mapping experience and the relationships we’ve made to update the national broadband availability map.

We have since announced that we are collaborating with initial eight states -- California, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia. These states will provide data and other inputs to the map so that policymakers around the country can make better decisions as they devise broadband expansion plans.

We chose these states for a few reasons. First, we wanted to make sure we had geographic diversity. Second, we selected states that participate in NTIA’s State Broadband Leaders Network. This is a group that formed out of NTIA’s last foray into mapping, and is made up of officials from around the country who are working to expand broadband in their communities. Finally, we looked for states that had active state broadband plans or programs.

So we have eight states that are an ideal cross-section of the country, with state and local governments that are committed to the mission of connecting all of their residents. We recently issued a contract for our mapping platform and are working on developing that platform.

The initial map will include available nationwide data for every state combined with state-level data from the eight states. In the future, NTIA will seek participation and data from additional states, territories, federally recognized tribes, as well as the broadband industry and other third-parties to expand the value of the map to policymakers around the country.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. I like to think we’re getting law and policy right, but that can only happen with continuous engagement, and thoughtful consideration of a broad range of viewpoints. In that spirit, I invite you to keep in touch with us as we move forward with the policies I’ve discussed today.