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NTIA and Connectivity for All: Broadband and Beyond

Remarks of Alan Davidson - Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information - National Telecommunications and Information Administration 
As prepared for delivery at the 2023 Consumer Electronics Show session entitled,
“5G and Beyond - The Role of Tech in Delivering Connectivity to All”
January 7, 2023
Las Vegas, Nevada

Good afternoon, and thank you David for that introduction.

It’s a pleasure to be here. I have been attending CES – and have been mesmerized by CES – for over 15 years. I love coming to this show. I describe it to people as a temple of innovation – an ever-changing window into the power of technology to change our world.

So, this marks my first CES as head of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration.

  • For those who don’t know us, by law NTIA serves as the president’s principal advisor on telecommunications and information policy.
  • Today that role translates into expanding broadband Internet access across America, managing federal use of spectrum, and ensuring that the Internet remains an engine for innovation and economic growth.

It is a historic moment at NTIA, largely because of our work on connectivity.

As you all know, the Internet is now the essential tool for communications in our modern world.  

Yet today, in 2023, there still are millions of people around the country that don’t have the access – or the skills – needed to take advantage of these opportunities.    

That’s about to change.  

We have been talking about the digital divide in this country for more than 20 years. Thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we finally have the resources to close the gap.       

The law provides nearly $65 billion to invest in a simple and ambitious mission: to connect everyone in America to affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet service.   

We are calling this initiative Internet for All, and we mean it.  

We’ve made a lot of progress already. NTIA spent 2022 laying the groundwork for this initiative: crafting program rules, meeting with stakeholders, and awarding billions for planning grants and programs to connect Tribes and minority-serving institutions – including over $1.7 billion to connect Tribal communities.

This is just the start. In 2023, we will move to the next phase of Internet for All.

This year we will be:

  • Determining how much money each state and territory will receive from the state grant program;  
  • Supporting them as they develop their roadmaps for connecting everyone in their communities; 
  • Awarding $1 billion in Middle Mile funding; 
  • Soliciting grants for the next $1 billion in our Tribal program, and more. 

In sum, I’ll say that this is a moment of great challenge and great opportunity.

Generations before us brought electricity and water to all of America.  They built the interstate highway system.    

This is our generation’s big infrastructure moment.    

This is our opportunity to connect everyone in America to the tools they need to thrive in the modern digital economy.      

It’s going to take a lot of work. We need everyone to do their part.  And we value your partnership in this project. 

We’re going to get millions of people online, but promoting Internet adoption is only part of NTIA’s work.  

Let me just quickly highlight a few other efforts where you will see us in the coming months. 

The first is around invigorating competition in the wireless equipment industry, particularly through Open Radio Access Networks. 

A key part of boosting competition is ensuring new players can emerge. This has not been the case when it comes to the gear that makes up the backbone of today’s wireless networks. 

One driver is China, which has been sheltering and subsidizing national champion suppliers for years, creating global security risks to the wireless equipment supply chain we cannot ignore.  

As a result, there are a very limited number of trustworthy vendors in the market today. This highly consolidated global market creates risks for both U.S. companies and consumers. 

As part of the Chips Act, Congress created a $1.5 billion Innovation Fund to help us break open this market. 

In 2023, we’ll begin awarding grants from this fund to help spur open radio access network technologies. 

We are looking for broad input on the best way to catalyze this market. We will host a listening session later this month, and take comments until January 27 on how to structure the program to get the most out of our $1.5 billion.  

If we do this right, we can help catalyze more resilient, secure, and cost-effective wireless networks.  

Another priority for NTIA is our work on spectrum. NTIA wears a dual hat within the Administration. We are the manager of federal spectrum use, and we also serve as the President’s advisor on spectrum policy. As such, we have a deep appreciation for both federal usage and for the imperative that the United States must continue to lead the world in innovative uses of wireless spectrum.  

Here at CES, spectrum is being used for so many new and innovative applications outside of 5G and WiFi – we need to make sure that innovators and entrepreneurs can access spectrum resources so they can keep bringing exciting new products to market.  

And as the commercial sector sees exciting new uses for spectrum, so do federal users. The federal government is always innovating and always looking for new exciting cutting-edge ways to use spectrum to help protect our nation, enhance public safety, predict the weather, and more.  

In 2023 NTIA will be working with our agency partners to develop a National Spectrum Strategy that ensures that the U.S. maintains its leadership by developing a long-term plan to meet both commercial and federal spectrum needs. In developing the strategy, we want to partner with all of you to understand your needs, to better understand how you use spectrum, and how you want to use it the future.  

In addition to building the best possible communications networks in America, we want to build a better Internet – an Internet that is open, safe, secure, and equitable. 

For that reason, a third growing area of work for us is privacy. 

As a start, the US needs a comprehensive federal privacy law. Today far too many Americans lack baseline protections for their sensitive personal information. 

We have some ideas of what those protections should entail. High on the list is the need for enhanced vigilance at the intersection of privacy and civil rights.  

In few areas are the consequences of privacy harms more starkly felt than in the impact of privacy and security on marginalized populations. 

Soon we will kick off a request for comment about these issues. Our inquiry will lead to a report examining privacy harms in this area and making recommendations on solutions.  

Finally, I expect to see NTIA further support the Administrations’ efforts to safeguard artificial intelligence and machine learning systems. 

Today, these systems remain opaque. It can be difficult to know whether they perform as claimed, whether they’re fair and unbiased, and whether they are responsible with data. 

Especially for high-risk applications, we want assurances that AI systems are in fact safe, effective, responsible, and lawful.  

There is a great deal of work in this space across the federal government. NTIA is eager to contribute its part from a policy perspective, and soon will launch a request for comment on crafting AI auditing and assurance policies. 

This proceeding will seek input on questions like when and how often AI audits should be done, what kind of data access is necessary, and whether different industry sectors—like employment or health care—require different approaches to assurance. 

These policies, done properly, could play a key role in our federal mission of advancing trustworthy AI. 

As you can see, 2023 will be a busy year for NTIA   

In conclusion, I would just reflect again on the historic opportunity before us to close the digital divide. This country is making an unprecedented investment in connectivity in the next few years.   

It’s going to take all of us working together to make that a reality. But I fully believe that we will look back 10 years, or 20 years, from now and say: This was the moment. This was the moment we made sure that everyone in America had the connections and the tools they needed to thrive in the modern digital economy. 

I hope you’ll join us in making this Internet for All dream a reality. Thank you.