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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Redl at the Federalist Society Executive Branch Review Conference

Remarks of David J. Redl
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
The Federalist Society Executive Branch Review Conference
Panel “The Future of the Internet and American Leadership”
Washington, D.C.
April 17, 2018

--As Prepared for Delivery--

Thank you Bryan for that introduction. It’s great to be here. At NTIA and the Department of Commerce, we’re thinking about the future of American leadership every day. We’re working to advance our leadership in wireless and 5G, by ensuring that the private sector has the spectrum resources it needs to fuel the next generation of connectivity. We’re working to reinvigorate America’s leadership in space commerce, an initiative being led by Secretary Ross that is focused on cutting regulations and freeing American entrepreneurs. And we’re working to ensure that the Internet is open, secure and providing the maximum benefits to the American people.

But this administration also understands that we must connect all Americans to truly unlock the promise of the Internet. There are still too many people across the country that lack access to reliable, affordable broadband Internet service – a problem that’s particularly acute in rural America.

There are many facets to the digital divide, but one of the toughest challenges is getting broadband networks deployed in rural areas with difficult terrain and low population density. Progress has also been slowed by bureaucracy, including expensive and lengthy application processes and regulatory reviews.

That’s why a key part of the administration’s strategy for expanding broadband deployment is removing barriers that slow or block new projects. NTIA is working to improve federal coordination around this goal through an interagency working group that we co-chair alongside the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service.

Our efforts are being driven by key recommendations of the president’s Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, which released a report earlier this year on improving life in rural America.

The top call to action in the Task Force report was to connect rural America to high-speed Internet. Doing so will be transformative for rural areas, improving health and education, promoting economic development, and unleashing American innovation. It will mean more productive farms and small businesses, opportunities for job training and workforce development, and access to advanced technology and global markets.

Our working group is focusing on three areas. The first is federal permitting. We’re looking at what’s required to place broadband facilities on Federal lands, with the goal of streamlining permitting efforts and establishing consistency across agencies.

The second area is federal funding of broadband projects. The group will report on the effectiveness of various federal broadband programs and will issue recommendations on how to better coordinate funding streams.

In the spending bill passed last month, several agencies were tasked with broadband responsibilities, and we look forward to working them. That includes the Rural Utilities Service, which has a new broadband loan and grant program, as well as the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, which has been asked to prioritize unserved areas in broadband projects it supports with FY2018 funds.

The third area for the working group is leveraging federal assets for broadband deployment. In January, President Trump issued a memo instructing the Interior Department to develop a plan to increase access to tower facilities and other infrastructure assets that the Department manages. This effort, and others like it, could potentially lower the cost of buildouts and encourage infrastructure deployment in rural America.

The Rural Prosperity Task Force also recommended assessing the current state of access nationwide. The digital divide has persisted for years, but the reasons behind it have always been changing. By better understanding where we are now, we will be better able to fix it.

We need accurate, reliable data analysis to properly inform private sector decisions, reduce regulatory barriers, and coordinate Federal programs that fund broadband infrastructure. We need to be able to aggregate existing information with data from multiple outlets across the states that are using innovative ideas to harness deployment coverage that may not be reflected in the Federal Communications Commission’s Form 477 data.

Congress has asked NTIA to work with the FCC and the states to update the broadband map with more diverse data sources in an effort to produce a more accurate assessment of broadband capabilities and provide a tool for policymakers to better target the funds that are allocated to broadband.

NTIA has been a leader in collecting and analyzing broadband adoption data, and using that data to develop policy. We have decades of experience analyzing broadband in the United States. We’ve seen real results from the work that our BroadbandUSA program has done cultivating relationships with state and local government officials who spend their time thinking about how to improve broadband in their states. Many states have been willing to take on the difficult challenge of compiling worthwhile data and maintaining broadband maps.

BroadbandUSA also works with communities to identify resources and provide technical assistance, and we have helped more than 250 communities develop public-private partnerships to meet their connectivity needs and digital inclusion goals. Through events and webinars, BroadbandUSA is bringing together important voices across the country who can help to bridge the digital divide.

As we look to the future, it should come as no surprise that my mind is on spectrum and the next generation of wireless technology. Our nation’s broadband needs are increasingly wireless. Whether it’s 5G wireless technologies that promise to deliver dramatic increases in wireless broadband speeds and bandwidth, or the unlicensed technologies we place in our homes, businesses, and communities, wireless broadband technologies are paving the way for more advanced manufacturing, health care services and public safety communications.

America is the world’s leader in Wi-Fi and 4G LTE and we’re among the leaders in bringing 5G to reality. It’s essential to American competitiveness that we don’t fall behind. 

At NTIA, we’re working to ensure that there is enough spectrum available to industry to support competitive, ubiquitous 5G in America. One of NTIA’s core missions is striking a successful balance between the demand for spectrum for various commercial uses and the needs of federal agencies.

Thanks to the efforts of our Policy and Plans Steering Group, NTIA recently was able to announce the selection of the 3450-3550 MHz band as a candidate for repurposing for commercial services. While we still have a lot of work to do to determine how to protect government incumbents, this spectrum is adjacent to the FCC’s Citizens Broadband Radio Service spectrum and could help fuel our nation’s 5G leadership.

NTIA is committed to developing and implementing novel spectrum management approaches. We’re happy to see that Congress is interested in novel approaches as well. Ray Baum’s Act, signed into as part of the budget deal, includes a provision on researching incentives for agencies to relinquish or share spectrum, and it also requires a study of bidirectional sharing.

As we look for other tools, we’re relying heavily on the Institute for Telecommunications Sciences, NTIA’s research laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. As I mentioned before, the 3450-3550 MHz candidate band is directly adjacent to the CBRS 3.5 gigahertz spectrum. ITS is helping to bring CBRS to life. The heart of this innovative spectrum band are two systems – the Spectrum Access System and the Environmental Sensing Capability -- that will allow commercial uses to coexist with military radar systems. ITS is collaborating with all interested stakeholders to certify these systems that are necessary to bring the band to market.

Combined with the FCC's recent announcement on C-band spectrum, we have the potential to make as much as 750 megahertz of contiguous mid-frequency spectrum available to meet our nation's 5G needs.

We also welcome the FCC’s recent vote approving an order easing regulations that impede deployment of wireless infrastructure, and today’s vote to establish auction rules for the 24 and 28 GHz bands. These are important steps forward in securing America’s leadership in next generation wireless connectivity.

I’ll stop here -- I’m excited to join today’s panel and hear what the panelists have to say on these important topics. Now I’ll turn it back over to Bryan. Thank you.