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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Redl at the SIA Leadership Dinner

Remarks of David J. Redl
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
SIA Leadership Dinner
Washington, D.C.

May 6, 2019

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Tom, for inviting me to speak with you tonight.

I am particularly pleased to be here with you on an evening when you’re honoring Scott Pace for his many contributions to the satellite sector, and to our national leadership in space.  In addition to having an email address that’s a bit “on the nose” – his username is S Pace and he’s the director of the Space Council – Scott delivered the punchline in one of my favorite exchanges in this job.  As a meeting at the White House was wrapping up, a colleague asked my age.  This isn’t an uncommon question for me and I have something of a standard response: I am the same age as the space shuttle.  What wasn’t surprising, was that Scott knew my age immediately.  What was surprising was his response: “You know, the shuttle was retired by your age.” 

In June of 2017, President Trump let the world know that space and a robust, American satellite industry would be an important part of his presidency when he reconstituted the National Space Council.  Now here we are, nearly two years later, and whether it’s the President’s Space Policy Directives, Secretary Ross’s leadership in elevating the Office of Space Commerce, or NTIA’s work to develop a national spectrum strategy that addresses the role of satellite in the modern communications environment, this Administration is walking the walk.  Earlier today, Vice President Pence emphasized the important collaboration among the national security, commercial and civil space sectors.

That’s because the President recognizes what everyone in this room does: that space is an important part of our economy, and that under his leadership it could continue to grow.  This industry creates tens of thousands of high-paying jobs and enables millions more in the larger economy.  And Secretary Ross recently said that we believe today’s 400-billion-dollar global space economy will quickly grow to one trillion dollars, and perhaps to three trillion by 2040.

Our goal is to ensure that the United States captures a significant chunk of the burgeoning space market. To that end, on June 26th and 27th, the Department will co-host a Space Enterprise Summit in Washington with the Department of State.  This summit will include international partners and commercial space companies, and will address international governance, regulations, and the need to enhance global partnerships. I know that many of the companies represented here tonight will be participants, and we thank you for your continued partnership.

While we’re working internationally to improve the environment for investment in space, we’re working also working to update our domestic policies to meet the space industry’s needs.  The Department has been hard at work to improve regulations on remote sensing; we’re working to streamline the processes required to launch satellites, and we’re working to reform our export controls.

Under this Administration’s leadership, America will continue to be the “flag of choice” for innovative space companies, and the American economy will be the beneficiary.  In addition to our regulatory reform efforts, some of our work has simply been a reflection of the changed circumstances in the space domain and the need for American leadership.  In particular, we have been working on enhancing space situational awareness and space traffic management. The global space economy has seen a 47% increase in the number of satellites over last 5 years, and when a collision with an errant paint chip can spell disaster for a critical asset, tracking and awareness are key.

And while the loss of a multi-billion-dollar asset in orbit is anything but trivial, some of the debris from the recent A-SAT test by the Indian government reached an apogee above the international space station.  Let’s not forget that when it comes to space debris there are also human lives at stake, especially as we stand facing the very real prospect of putting more humans in space.

The Department of Commerce recently submitted comments to the Federal Communications Commission on the mitigation of orbital debris. We encouraged the Commission to work with interagency partners on commercial orbital debris as it moves forward in its own policy processes, in order to avoid duplicative or inconsistent regulations that could create confusion and increase costs.

Moving Forward Together

At NTIA, when we look at the satellite industry and how we can fulfill the President’s vision, we see a trusted solution provider for our government users, a leader in technological innovation, and a critical contributor to meeting our national broadband needs.

Now more than ever, satellite connectivity is an asset that is helping connect Americans of all stripes – from warfighters to airplane passengers, to those that live in rural and hard-to-reach areas that are desperate to get online.

High-throughput geosynchronous satellites are bringing more data to more places.  And in the next few years, thousands of new non-geostationary satellites from multiple providers will be launched into orbits to provide low-latency broadband connectivity. These advances in technology are opening up new business models, expanding the bounds of what we thought possible with satellites, and fueling the next wave of innovation across the satellite ecosystem.

But this is nothing new for you.  Throughout your history, this industry has shown remarkable resilience.  In the face of myriad changes in the communications landscape, the satellite sector has persevered – innovating and providing services in places other communications systems simply cannot. While the improvements in the technology and connection speeds have been remarkable, the satellite industry is at something of an inflection point.

In particular, I’d like to speak to two areas that I see as evolving and critical to the continued success of the satellite industry – spectrum access and public advocacy. 

Let’s start with spectrum.

The spectrum landscape has changed drastically in recent years, and it’s going to continue to evolve.  If we’re being honest, the era of easy spectrum decisions is over.  We no longer have the luxury of running the same old playbook and expecting the same results.  That’s true across the board, whether you’re a satellite operator, a terrestrial wireless provider, or an unlicensed user.  Spectrum has become more important than ever to our daily lives and government missions.  Competition for spectrum resources has never been more contentious, and we must change to reflect this new reality.

Specific to the space sector, the Secretary and I recently delivered to the White House a report titled, “Driving Space Commerce Through Effective Spectrum Policy.”  The report’s 13 recommendations look to ensure we have sufficient spectrum for space activities, improve spectral efficiency, and protect space assets from harmful radio-frequency interference.

But the spectrum challenges we face are not limited to the satellite sector, and we have to think bigger in our interconnected spectrum economy.  That’s why in October, President Trump directed the Secretary of Commerce, working through NTIA, to develop and implement a comprehensive, balanced and forward-looking National Spectrum Strategy.

In working to formulate this strategy we’ve held discussions within the federal government and with representatives from various industry and stakeholder groups, including SIA. We also received more than 50 comments in response to our public request for feedback. 

The President 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.  And our current approach of piecemeal, band-by-band spectrum policymaking is not sustainable. The opportunities are drying up and it is an inefficient process that too often devolves into a zero-sum game.

In this era of competition for spectrum resources, it can be easy to think that we’re in a winner-take-all battle, but that mindset asks us to make false choices that will shortchange America. For example, we don’t have to choose between making more spectrum available for the private sector and sustaining our critical government systems. We also don’t have to choose between terrestrial 5G and satellite services. To start with, satellite will play an important role in 5G connectivity, but perhaps more to the point these uses are not mutually exclusive; it’s just going to take hard work for them to continue to coexist in a more contentious spectrum environment.

While we anticipate delivering the national strategy this summer, the bottom line that we all need to figure out is how we settle on more efficient allocations, more efficient use of the spectrum, and better ways to define, collaborate, and coordinate our realistic, forward-looking spectrum needs.

And that’s just the challenge domestically. Internationally, all of the same trends are playing out, but the stakes are very different.

As you well know, satellite services are disproportionately impacted by international spectrum policy decisions.  Geosynchronous satellites can often serve multiple nations, and non-geosynchronous systems, by definition, are global. 

So when the International Telecommunication Union holds its World Radiocommunication Conference – the WRC as it is lovingly known – this fall, the stakes for satellite are high. The agenda includes issues of bringing into use non-geostationary satellites, communication between FSS satellites and earth stations in motion, and a milestone approach for large NGSO satellite constellations.  To say nothing of the ongoing struggle between the 5G community and satellite over new IMT allocations.

NTIA recognizes it is critical that a flexible satellite regulatory regime is created and maintained that continues to enable satellite innovation. And as the expert agency in the Executive Branch on spectrum policy, NTIA believes that the WRC still presents an opportunity for American leadership.  But only if we recognize what matters. 

NTIA is guided by recognition that we all must focus on long-term, strategic decisions; That we must make decisions grounded in scientific analysis; That we must not lose sight of the massive level of public and private investment in existing systems; And, that we must be guided by recognition of the vital role that both satellite and terrestrial services play in our lives, our economy, and our national security.

That brings me to my last topic – public advocacy.

NTIA and the Department of Commerce recognize how essential our satellite industry is to our country’s economic and security goals. And we are using every tool at our disposal to help ensure that the U.S. satellite industry succeeds.  But we need your help, because you have a great story to tell.

Unfortunately, most Americans, even here in Washington, simply don’t appreciate the role that satellites play in their lives.  German chemical company BASF famously ran an ad slogan in the 1990s that said, “At BASF, we don't make a lot of the products you buy, we make a lot of the products you buy better.”

Satellites empower our warfighters around the globe to protect our national security; satellites bring us the data to predict severe weather and save lives; satellites distribute the video content that keeps us entertained and informed; and satellites help us stay connected to loved ones whether we’re at 30,000 feet or at sea.  This isn’t the promise of some future technology that hasn’t been deployed, this is reality.  This is now.  But most people do not think of you when they see our men and women in uniform, when they get a severe weather alert, when they watch cable news, or when they’re on a flight surfing the Internet somewhere over the Midwest.

And your role in solving the broadband challenges this country faces is wildly underappreciated.  High-speed broadband from satellite is a cost-effective way to connect rural Americans, satellite backhaul will be a critical component in terrestrial 5G systems in rural America, and SatCOWs – satellite cells-on-wheels – are essential elements when restoring terrestrial wireless service in times of disaster. 

You are critical to our national and economic security, and fostering the continued growth and vitality of the satellite sector should be a no-brainer.  But when it comes to policy, a little education can go a long way. 


Look, we have a lot of work ahead of us, that much is clear. This Administration has been focused on unleashing economic prosperity and innovation in the United States, and that’s why we have made it a priority to expand U.S. leadership in commercial space innovation, investment, and operations.

We see the opportunity to work with this industry to expand the capabilities and coverage of telecommunications networks, and to deepen the experience of connectivity by bringing enriching and lifesaving applications to our fingertips.  And we see the still-urgent need to broaden the reach of these networks to more people living in all parts of our country and around the world.

Let’s work together to make our shared goals a reality.  Thank you.