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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Strickling at the FCBA Luncheon

Remarks by Lawrence E. Strickling, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Meeting Description
Federal Communications Bar Association Luncheon
Meeting Location
Washington, D.C.

– As Prepared for Delivery –

Thank you, Dorothy (Attwood), for that wonderful introduction and congratulations on your recent move to Disney.

I would also like to congratulate Bryan (Tramont) on his new role as FCBA president. You heard Bryan talk about his plans to strengthen the FCBA’s focus on mentoring during his tenure, which is a terrific idea.  One of the greatest things about our industry is its people, and I encourage everyone here to think about the contribution you can make by mentoring others. I have certainly benefitted from the mentors I have had in my career, and you will find that one of the most rewarding things you can do is help others to grow and succeed in their own careers. So I challenge us all, even when we are busy with our other job responsibilities, to make time to cultivate the next generation of talent and help the telecom bar become as diverse and skilled as possible.

As you know, NTIA serves as the principal advisor to the President on communications and information policy.  This sector is vital to the President’s strategy of building the innovation economy of the future -- one that supports new and better jobs, and enhances America's global competitiveness.

Today I’d like to give you an overview of the leadership role NTIA is taking to implement the President’s vision of a nationwide, 21st century communications infrastructure and discuss some of the key initiatives and policy issues before us.

This has been one of NTIA’s busiest years ever. We are hard at work in three separate areas—spectrum, broadband, and Internet policy--that together are key building blocks in one of the most important sectors of our economy and one that needs to be an engine of growth and job creation as we recover this economy.


Let me start with our work on spectrum. One of NTIA’s core missions is to manage the use of spectrum by Federal agencies. Our work in this area is more important now than ever before because of the rapidly growing demand for spectrum, both by businesses and by government agencies.

President Obama has made it a priority that we allocate new spectrum for wireless broadband services.  On June 28, the President issued an executive memorandum directing NTIA, working with the FCC, to develop a plan to make available 500 MHz of spectrum over the next ten years that would be suitable for fixed and mobile broadband use.

The President directed us to deliver to the White House by October 1 a plan and timetable to perform this work.  In addition, NTIA undertook what we have called a “fast-track” analysis of some spectrum bands to determine, also by October 1, whether any of those bands could be reallocated to wireless broadband services.  To my knowledge, this is the first time any Administration has conducted a fast-track analysis of this type and it is a tribute to the leadership of Karl Nebbia, the head of our office of spectrum management, that I can report that we made our deadline to deliver both reports before October 1.  The reports are in the final stages of interagency review, but I am happy to give you a preview of our conclusions from the “fast-track” report and of the process we will be following to carry out the President’s directions. 

Based on our fast-track analysis, we are recommending the reallocation of 115 MHz of spectrum for commercial wireless broadband services over the next five years.   This is a significant step forward in the Administration’s efforts to address the growing demand for wireless broadband services, but it is only a downpayment on our larger quest.  Before we are finished with our work, we and the FCC will examine 2,200 MHz of spectrum to find the 500 MHz of spectrum required by the President.

The details of this analysis and findings will be released soon, but today let me explain how we came up with the 115 MHz recommendation. Last spring we identified some bands for analysis based on two criteria—first, could the band be used for wireless broadband without having to relocate the existing Federal users and second, could the band be made available to the commercial sector within five years. 

Three bands met both of these criteria:

1)1675-1710 MHz, used largely by NOAA for weather satellites and balloons;
2) 3500-3650 MHz, used by the Department of Defense for radar systems, primarily on naval vessels; and
3) 4200-4220 MHz and 4380-4400 MHz, the ends of a 200MHz band used around the world for radio altimeters in commercial and military aircraft.

We added to this initial list the band 1755-1780 MHz which did not satisfy the “no relocation criteria,” but which we wanted to make sure we looked at because of the industry interest in having this band made available at auction with AWS-3 spectrum.

NTIA is recommending that 15 MHz of the NOAA band, from 1695 to1710, along with 100 MHz of the DOD radar band, from 3550-3650 MHz, be reallocated in the next five years. As I mentioned, our recommendation assumes that there need not be any relocation of Federal users in these bands so there will be some geographic limitations placed on what is made available to industry.  These will take the form of exclusion zones, or protection zones, around the ground stations that control the weather satellites and along the coastlines to prevent interference with the Federal missions.  

As to the radar altimeter band, we cannot reallocate portions of that band without international regulatory action that at the earliest could occur at the World Radiocommunication Conference in 2016.  You have to start working now in order to get on that agenda. We are going to continue to study this band to determine if the 40 MHz at the ends of the band are being used, but because of the long lead time to get items on the agenda of the WRC, we will initiate the necessary legal actions while we complete our technical analysis.

As I announced last summer, we did not complete a fast-track analysis of the 1755-1780 band because of the large number of Federal agencies that use that band and the diversity of uses in that band.  However, we understand that this band is a priority for industry and it will be evaluated fully as we move forward under the plan and timetable.  

So, in just a few months, we’ve gotten off to a good start.  But while 115 MHz sounds like a big number, the lion’s share of that spectrum lies above 3500 MHZ, which we know is not prime real estate in today’s wireless marketplace.  We are on a long-term mission here, and when we can identify spectrum that is suitable for wireless broadband and that can be made available with a minimum of disruption to existing Federal users, it is incumbent on us to take that spectrum and put it in the bank so that industry knows there will be spectrum available in the future as the market develops and technology evolves.   

I do want to acknowledge the efforts of the key members of our team who developed these reports.  In addition to Karl Nebbia, I want to thank my senior advisor, Larry Atlas, as well as team members Gary Patrick, Ed Drocella, Ben Tadesse, and Jonathan Williams on the fast-track report and Byron Barker and Renae Carter on the plan and timetable.  You will not find a more dedicated group of civil servants anywhere in the government, and they have worked tirelessly over the last several months to complete our work on schedule. 

I also want to thank the other bureaus and agencies that have worked closely with us over the last several months, particularly NOAA and the Department of Defense.  I know folks in industry think that the Federal agencies are not interested in helping to meet the national imperative of expanding the amount of spectrum used for commercial broadband but that’s simply not true.  What they do want is that we protect their ability to perform their critical missions and that they be compensated for their costs to plan for a reallocation and to modify or relocate their operations when spectrum is reallocated.  These are reasonable requests and as part of the overall plan and timetable, we will be working across the government to develop a comprehensive spectrum strategy to meet these concerns.

Broadband Stimulus

Let me now turn to NTIA’s work to expand broadband access and adoption.

In less than 20 months, NTIA built a multi-billion dollar grant program from the ground up.  This is the largest grant program that NTIA has ever managed and is one of the largest ever managed at the Department of Commerce.  We had to hire staff, build the information systems, develop the rules, perform due diligence on the proposals, and award over $4 billion in grants, all before this past September 30.  At every step of the way, we solved the challenges that arose, we answered the skeptics who said we would never get the money out, and ended up with what I think is a very solid set of sustainable projects that will not only expand broadband access and adoption but will also lead to economic growth and job creation.  These projects will also continue to pay dividends far into the future in the form of improved education and health care, heightened innovation, and long-term local, national, and global economic growth.

Let me summarize our portfolio of projects.  We funded four types of projects: infrastructure, public computer centers, sustainable broadband adoption projects, and state broadband data and development initiatives. These projects reach every state and territory and will:

  • Fund the construction or upgrade of approximately 120,000 miles of broadband networks.
  • Provide broadband access to approximately 24,000 community anchor institutions, including schools, libraries, government offices, health care facilities, and public safety entities.  Of these, approximately:
    • 3,000 are healthcare entities, including hospitals, clinics, and physicians’ offices
    • 5,000 are public safety entities, such as first responders, fire, police, and EMS
    • 7,000 are K-12 schools
    • 600 are community colleges
    • 2,000 are libraries
    • 5,000 are government facilities, such as City and County offices, workforce centers, Head Start locations, and other entities providing important benefits to the public
    • 700 are other institutions of higher education, including public universities
  • Deploy middle mile infrastructure in areas with nearly 40 million households and 4 million businesses, many of which will benefit from new or improved broadband service provided by last-mile providers that are able to utilize the new, open infrastructure to extend or upgrade their service for consumer and business customers.
  • Invest in more than 3,500 new or upgraded public computer centers in libraries, schools, community centers and other public locations.
  • Invest in more than 35,000 new or upgraded public computer workstations.
  • Make public computer center workstations and training available to more than 1 million new users.

In addition, our grants to the states will support statewide broadband planning and implementation efforts as well as efforts to collect and verify data on broadband availability, which will be used for the national broadband map which we will release next February.

Overall, I am very pleased with our portfolio of projects.  I am most proud of the fact that all of these projects emanated from the communities in which they will be built and carried out.  The level of public and private involvement in determining what project would best meet the needs of the applicant communities was most heartening and offers some hope that we have started a dialogue in our local communities and states that can lead to effective partnerships even without additional federal grant money. 

I am also very pleased that our sustainable adoption projects will give us a great opportunity to test what programs will help to improve adoption among the various communities that have been slow to sign up for broadband service.  There have been lots of surveys as to the reasons people give for not subscribing.  This is the first opportunity on a large scale to see what types of programs will actually move the needle on subscribership.

While we have come very far in a very short time, our work is really just beginning. We have now pivoted to provide vigorous oversight of these projects over the next three years to ensure they are completed on schedule, within budget, and deliver the promised benefits to the communities they serve.

Earlier this month our program made some news concerning our funding to manage and oversee the broadband grants.  Let me update you on where we are.  NTIA, as all government agencies, entered the new fiscal year on October 1 operating pursuant to a continuing resolution passed by Congress.  The continuing resolution establishes a temporary budget to support government operations. This is not unusual, nor is the fact that the continuing resolution simply extends the final budget that Congress had adopted the previous year. However, through a budgeting quirk, our authorized spending level between now and December 3 includes zero dollars to manage and oversee the broadband grants program even though the President’s budget for FY2011 includes $24 million for the program.  OMB has authorized us to continue to operate the program on the assumption Congress will include money for this program when it eventually passes a budget, so we are operating pretty much normally for the time being.  However, we are now working closely with Congress and the White House to secure this necessary funding before the end of the year.  We are assuring our grantees that we will do everything possible to avoid disruptions and interruptions to the program, and we are hopeful we will get Congressional action to resolve this issue before the end of the year. 

Although managing this program continues to present unique challenges, it also offers unprecedented learning opportunities for broadband policymaking going forward. 

For example, a key challenge for NTIA will be to assimilate information and best practices from our grantees and make them broadly available.  Many of our sustainable broadband adoption and public computer center projects will be developing or utilizing digital literacy course materials.  At NTIA, we would like to assemble and evaluate these materials—perhaps we can create a digital literacy portal on our website to provide digital literacy training directly to people who want to learn about how to use digital technology. 

Similarly, many of our projects are creating prototype digital literacy training teams, utilizing high school students, college students, or community residents.  We hope to take the best of these ideas and create a toolkit that could be used by states, municipalities, or even a local library that wants to create its own digital literacy corps.  In both of these efforts, we will team with other agencies, particularly the Education Department, to pair their expertise with ours to develop a high-quality program.

Internet Policy

A third focus of NTIA is to develop policy to ensure that we continue to have an Internet environment that encourages innovation and creativity and fosters trust with users.

For this reason, NTIA is playing a leading role in the Commerce Department’s Internet Policy Task Force. We are working along with colleagues from the Secretary’s office and other bureaus of the Department, including the International Trade Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and the Bureau of Industry and Security to address four key public policy and operational challenges facing the Internet – (1) enhancing Internet privacy; (2) ensuring cybersecurity; (3) copyright protection; and (4) ensuring the global free flow of information.

We are guided by two dominant principles as we approach these challenging issues. 

First is the idea of trust.  It is imperative for the sustainability and continued growth of the Internet that we preserve the trust of all actors on the Internet.  For example, if users do not trust that their personal information is safe on the Internet, they won’t use it.  If content providers do not trust that their content will be protected, they will threaten to stop putting it online.

Our second key principle is that we want to preserve and enhance a multi-stakeholder model for dealing with these issues. There’s little question that multi-stakeholder organizations have played a major role in the design and operation of the Internet and are directly responsible for its success.  Our approach, which we call Internet Policy 3.0, recognizes that the interplay among technical standards and design, multi-stakeholder institutions, voluntary best practices, and laws and regulations have a role to play in ensuring that the Internet continues to meet its economic and social potential. In this model, a key role for government is to convene stakeholders to discuss critical technology issues, bring these matters to the public’s attention, and work together across all interested parties to tackle challenging problems. 

We’ve put these principles into practice with our work on privacy.  The current privacy policy framework has come under increasing strain as more and more personal data is collected on the Internet, putting at risk the consumer trust that is an essential foundation of the digital economy. 

We will soon be releasing a report on privacy and information innovation.  We will style it as a “green paper”—a discussion paper that outlines suggestions and direction for consideration and invites comment.  We view this document as a further step in an ongoing conversation, rather than a statement of the Department’s settled policy views.  The report will evaluate the challenges to privacy policy and analyze various approaches to meeting those challenges.  But most important, we will ask questions and continue to engage the Internet community as we develop policy for the Department and the Administration.

Internationally, we have an important role to play in Internet policy.  Over the next few years, the issue of the role of all governments in Internet governance is going to be a very important topic, specifically, how can the legitimate interests of governments to protect their citizens be harmonized with the multi-stakeholder models that have worked so well up to now.  These issues have been the subject of intense debate the last few weeks at the International Telecommunication Union Plenipotentiary Conference in Mexico and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.  Next year, NTIA will participate in an Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) process to address these, which will hopefully result in the preparation of a set of global Internet policy principles to which governments around the world can subscribe.  We are very pleased to see the parallel effort that the Aspen Institute is just now organizing under the leadership of Reed Hundt to engage business and civil society in this debate as well, and we look forward to working with that project over the coming months.


As you can see, we have a very busy agenda at NTIA.  Returning to our initial theme of mentoring, one of the challenges all leaders face is how to motivate their employees and how to ensure that all of them feel engaged in helping to solve the issues we face.  In other words, how do you mentor an entire organization?  We are engaging our staff at every level on these issues.  Our leadership team of the top fifteen managers in the bureau meet for a day every month to define as a group our strategic initiatives, to agree upon the leadership characteristics that we want our managers to display, and to give each other honest feedback on how each of us is doing.  We have challenged our mid-level managers to develop themselves personally.  And we have engaged folks at every job grade to help us develop training policies and improve communications within the bureau.  At the end of the day, we are trying to do for everyone as a group what you or I try to do when we mentor an individual—show that we care about them, that we want them to grow and develop, and in doing so, raise the level of performance for the agency as a whole as high as we can. 

Thank you, Bryan, for the opportunity to speak here today. The policy challenges we face are broad but we at NTIA are proud to be on the forefront of developing and implementing this Administration’s broadband and information policy. All of us at NTIA look forward to working with all of you to find solutions that serve the public interest.