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

Remarks of David J. Redl
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Free State Foundation Tenth Annual Telecom Policy Conference
Washington, D.C.
March 27, 2018

-- As Prepared for Delivery --

Thank you, Randy, for inviting me to speak today. I have always appreciated Free State’s many years of work on communications and economic policy issues, which helps inform policymakers and allows for a more robust and open debate. Today’s theme is timely and fits well with our goals at NTIA, which is to expand spectrum usage, support development of 5G, and help connect all Americans to the Internet.

This administration has made clear that connecting all Americans, especially those in rural areas, is a major priority. We know that too many Americans still lack access to reliable, affordable broadband Internet service.

At NTIA, we are working on this problem by helping communities gain access to technology that can improve health and education, promote economic development, and unleash American innovation.

Our BroadbandUSA program supports community leaders seeking to expand broadband connectivity. We work together to identify resources and provide technical assistance, and have helped more than 250 communities to develop public-private partnerships to meet their connectivity needs and digital inclusion goals.

Our State Broadband Leaders Network helps facilitate information sharing among representatives from more than 20 states. We just concluded a highly successful summit in Tennessee, working with the Tennessee Economic Development Authority, which brought more than 200 state and local officials to share their best ideas for furthering the state’s connectivity.

Spectrum Priorities

We’re also expanding connectivity by ensuring that there is enough spectrum available 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 hard work of our Policy and Plans Steering Group, NTIA was recently able to announce the selection of the 3450-3550 MHz band as a candidate for relocation to commercial services. We still have a lot of work to do to determine how to protect government incumbents, which include Defense Department radars that are vital for national security. But this could be an important band for commercial services – it’s adjacent to the FCC’s Citizen Broadband Radio Service spectrum, or CBRS, and could help fuel our nation’s 5G leadership.

DOD plans to submit a proposal under the Spectrum Pipeline Act to carry out a comprehensive study to determine the potential for introducing advanced wireless services in this band without harming operations. We hope the result of this hard work will be a “win-win” that enables the continuing growth of the U.S. wireless industry.

The Pipeline Act and the Spectrum Relocation Fund are two of the strongest tools we have as we look to free up spectrum for commercial uses. But we want to have every tool possible available to us, especially for bands where clearing out government users isn’t an option.

NTIA is committed to developing and implementing novel spectrum management approaches. As only one example, the President’s Budget for FY19 includes a proposal to authorize NTIA to administer leases of federal spectrum to non-federal users. 

This is a high-level proposal at this point, and many details need to be sorted out, but I believe it has great potential. We’d be looking to find ways to incentivize agencies that use spectrum to help us identify bands. Could upgraded technology or capabilities serve as an incentive, or could the agencies become beneficiaries of services provided by the new user of the spectrum? We’d also have to sort out how to fund the resources needed to negotiate leases and administer the program but the idea is to add as many tools as we can to put underutilized spectrum to use while maximizing the economic value of spectrum and protecting federal spectrum users.

We’re happy to see that Congress is interested in novel approaches as well. Ray Baum’s Act, signed into law last week 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. Ray Baum was a personal friend with whom I worked with closely for many years. I am pleased that his name adorns legislation that will have a major impact on the next generation of connectivity in America. I also appreciate the blog Free State published last week highlighting the accomplishments of this important legislation.

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 candidate band that DOD will study 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 Navy radar systems. ITS is collaborating with all interested stakeholders to certify these systems that are necessary to bring the band to market.

The DOD study, the 3.5 GHz band, and FCC's recent announcement on C-band spectrum 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 vote last week approving an order easing regulations that impede deployment of wireless infrastructure. This is an important step forward in securing America’s leadership in next generation wireless connectivity, and is consistent with NTIA’s commitment to help remove obstacles to allow 5G to flourish.

Broadband mapping and deployment

NTIA is looking to improve federal coordination and reduce barriers to broadband deployment, another major priority for the Administration.  This effort is being coordinated through the Broadband Interagency Working Group, which we co-chair alongside the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service.

At present, our efforts are focused on three workstreams. These align with key recommendations of the president’s Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity. Expanding broadband was the No. 1 recommendation of the Task Force in the report it released earlier this year on improving life in rural America.

The first area of focus for the BIWG, as the working group is known, is federal permitting. We’re looking at the requirements that govern the siting of broadband facilities on Federal lands, in an effort to streamline permitting efforts and establish consistency across agencies.

The second area is federal funding of broadband projects. The group has been tasked with identifying the efficacy of federal broadband programs and recommending enhancements for coordination of funding streams.

Several agencies were tasked with broadband responsibilities in the FY2018 spending bill, and we look forward to working them. That includes RUS, 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 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, including identifying infrastructure gaps and opportunities for more efficient deployment.

We know one of the best ways to solve the digital divide is to better understand it. 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. High quality, data-driven policy research is essential to create a holistic view of the current state of deployment.

We need accurate, reliable data analysis to properly inform private sector decisions, reduce regulatory barriers, and better 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 Form 477 data.

Last week, Congress appropriated funds for NTIA to work with the FCC and the States to update the broadband map with more diverse data sources. This will produce a more accurate assessment of broadband capabilities and provide a tool for policy makers both here on the Hill and across the executive branch to better target the funds that are allocated to broadband.

The BroadbandUSA group at NTIA has spent the last few years continuing to cultivate our State Broadband Leaders Network, which includes officials within state and local and county government who spend their time thinking about how to improve the broadband situation. This has yielded real results for us with states that have been willing to take on the difficult challenge of maintaining these maps and getting good data. Through ongoing meetings, including our recent summit in Tennessee, state and community leaders get a chance to learn about what works or has failed in expanding broadband deployment.

Whether it’s solving a local connectivity issue, or developing new approaches to spectrum development, NITA hopes to contribute to advances in our 5G future. Everyone here today has perspectives which can enrich NTIA’s policy agenda. My door is open – let’s discuss the future. We want to hear from you – we want to know what you think is important, and what we can do to help. Thank you.