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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Victory at the Annual Meeting of the United Telecom Council

United Telecom Council's 2002 Telecom Conference
Critical Communications for Critical Infrastructure

Remarks from Nancy J. Victory
Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information
Administrator, National Telecommunications and Information Administration

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

On behalf of Secretary Evans and President Bush, I want to thank the United Telecom Council for inviting me here today. In my capacity as Assistant Secretary of Commerce and the Administrator of the National Telecommunications Information Administration, I am delighted to be in front of such a diverse group of companies that make up the critical infrastructure industry. Those involved in the delivery of utility services and the protection of the public's safety and our natural resources understand that you need to prepare for the worst in order to deliver the best.

The challenge of protecting our nation's critical infrastructure ranks among the highest priorities for my team and for me personally. At NTIA we have a continuing commitment to ensure that, in the worst of times, our nation's critical infrastructure systems are able to provide the best of services. Before turning to details, let me provide you with a brief overview of NTIA, its responsibilities and areas where we are focusing our attention with regard to spectrum management.


NTIA's Role in Spectrum Management

Within the United States, spectrum management is bifurcated. The FCC manages the spectrum for the private sector as well as for state and local governments. NTIA is responsible for managing spectrum used by the various Federal Government agencies and departments. NTIA and the FCC work closely together to coordinate spectrum use and policies because a majority of the spectrum is shared between federal government and non-federal government users. More broadly, NTIA advises the President on communications and information policies affecting the nation.

Frequency Management in Times of Emergency

In times of crisis, NTIA has an important role in facilitating use of spectrum and working to ensure network viability. For example, in response to the September 11th tragedy, NTIA operated 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week to process frequency requests by federal agencies for law enforcement, special operations, and search and rescue operations at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. NTIA also processed spectrum assignment requests from the Departments of Defense (DOD), Justice, Treasury, Energy, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the White House Communications Agency, and the American Red Cross. To meet DOD's spectrum needs alone, NTIA expedited coordination on almost 7000 frequency assignments through the use of a unique computer automation process.

NTIA's Role in Ensuring Critical Infrastructure's Viability

One of our missions is to help protect our Nation's critical infrastructure as it pertains to communications and information networks. Public safety is an obvious area of concern, and keeping our essential public services and communication networks operating - particularly in times of crisis - is very important. NTIA is the Government's lead agency for ensuring that the critical communications networks within the communications and information sector continue to function in the face of a cyber or physical attack. NTIA is continuing to work with representatives from industry to determine how, where, and in what way safeguards can be strengthened and improved to protect the nation's critical infrastructure.

In order to better organize government to engage in these and other efforts to protect our nation, the President just a few short weeks ago presented a bold proposal to restructure the entire Federal Government to successfully meet the challenges of securing the homeland. In his introduction of the plan, the President said "Our government must be reorganized to deal more effectively with the new threats of the 21st Century." The President stressed the need for a single, unified homeland security structure that will improve preparedness for and protection against today's threats. Such a structure must also be flexible enough to prepare for unknown threats.

One of the primary goals of the new Department will be to secure our borders, our transportation sector (including our railroads), our ports, and our critical infrastructure. For the telecom and infrastructure industry, one of the most significant details of the plan is that infrastructure protection would be placed under a new undersecretary for information analysis and infrastructure protection, who would be charged with "developing a comprehensive national plan for securing the key resources and critical infrastructure of the United States." The Department of Commerce will play a crucial role in this new agency. Under the President's proposal, the Department's Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office and NIST's Computer Security Division will become part of the Department of Homeland Security and contribute to this new information analysis and infrastructure protection function. Those of us who work with the critical infrastructure industries are enthusiastic about the improved coordination and preparedness sure to result from the President's plan. It is imperative that the Congress moves decisively to implement it.

NTIA's Research and Engineering Laboratory

NTIA also has one of the nation's leading telecommunications research laboratories located in Boulder, Colorado - the Institute for Telecommunication Sciences (ITS). The ITS laboratory is NTIA's chief research and engineering arm. It also serves as a principal federal resource for solving the telecommunications concerns of other federal agencies, state and local governments, and private associations and organizations.

ITS has been directly involved in identifying solutions to the interoperability issue. One of its projects has been the development of standards for public safety digital land mobile radio systems. ITS will be conducting interoperability testing of these systems in the near future.


September 11th Lessons

We all know that September 11th had a profound impact on each and every one of us. We all have personal stories we could share about that day. In my case, the tragedy struck very close indeed as a dear friend and former partner was on American 77 and my hometown of Garden City, New York lost almost one hundred members of its community at the World Trade Center. My husband might well have been on American 77 as well but for his pledge to attend our son's soccer game scheduled for that afternoon.

The September 11th attacks demonstrated in a very public way how critically important communications capabilities are for our Nation's first responders and how crucial a role the utilities play in our daily lives. We tend to take for granted the consistent level of services provided by the energy, petroleum, railroad, and water industries until a catastrophic event that affects or threatens them occurs.

Immediately following the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, hundreds of work crews were dispatched with mobile and portable radios to coordinate service restoration efforts. These work crews also had to communicate with firefighters in need of adequate water pressure to put out the fires, law enforcement officials requiring quick restoration of power to vulnerable areas, and various disaster response teams attempting to rescue survivors. Railroads and petroleum providers also relied on wireless communications to replenish food and fuel supplies to affected areas. Needless to say, the use of reliable wireless communications aided significantly in the recovery efforts at and around the World Trade Center location.

Since that tragic day, more attention has been focused on ensuring that our first responders and critical infrastructure providers are equipped to prevent and/or minimize the effects of any future attacks here at home. A good deal of the debate has centered on how to improve the ability of these public servants to effectively communicate with one another.

Report on Spectrum Needs of the Energy, Water and Railroad Industries

Towards this end, NTIA recently studied the spectrum needs of some critical UTC members - the energy, water and railroad industries. In response to a directive from Congress, NTIA assessed the current and future use of spectrum by these industries to protect and maintain the Nation's critical infrastructure. The report, released earlier this year, was based upon information from these industries, the agencies who regulate them, and the general public.

The comments gathered by NTIA highlighted several things. First, many of the companies who submitted input indicated that the events of September 11th emphasized the critical role of wireless communications technology for emergency response and routine maintenance by the utility industry. They noted that reliable wireless communications technology is critical when responding to major service interruptions or equipment malfunctions. These companies also emphasized the importance of wireless communications technology when complying with safety, environmental and regulatory requirements.

Yet, concerns were raised about whether current spectrum allocations would allow these critical functions to be carried out effectively into the future. A number of commenters emphasized how spectrum congestion and interference could damage essential command and control infrastructures, particularly during a large-scale emergency situation. Given your industry's need to resolve these issues and the increasing demand on the spectrum from all users, the use of advanced communications technology or newly allocated frequency bands (such as 700 MHz, when cleared) could provide useful tools to help alleviate the congestion and interference issues that the commenters outlined.

As a follow-up to our report, the Federal Communications Commission is working on its own report that will address any needs identified in the NTIA study. NTIA looks forward to learning about the FCC's findings and what recommendations, if any, that they make. With a renewed emphasis in protecting our Nation's Critical Infrastructure, I believe that the vital issues of ensuring adequate communications within the industry has gained significant interest in the past several months. Many of these issues will be of pivotal importance to the new Department of Homeland Security and of continued interest to NTIA.

NTIA's Recent Summit on Interoperability

Yet, the report was not NTIA's only effort to assist the public safety and CII community to be prepared for future emergencies. Two weeks ago, NTIA co-sponsored a Public Safety Interoperability Summit with the Public Safety Wireless Network. The focus of the Summit was to educate and provide Federal and State CIO's, Congressional staff, and local decision-makers with technology solutions for achieving interoperability among Federal, state, and local public safety entities. The results of this Summit will help NTIA develop policies and strategies and advise the Administration concerning the role of technology in developing our Nation's public safety communications infrastructure. The NTIA website contains archives of presentations and useful reference materials from the Summit.

NTIA and Spectrum Management Policies

We at NTIA also believe that future preparedness must be an element carefully considered as we look at spectrum management policy in general. Managing spectrum effectively and efficiently is one of our greatest challenges because of the limited amount of available spectrum, and the continued great demand for it. As many of you may be aware, in early April, NTIA hosted a two-day Spectrum Summit with participation by Chairman Powell and his FCC colleagues. The purpose of the Summit was to explore new and innovative ideas to develop and implement spectrum policy and management approaches that would encourage spectrum efficiency; provide spectrum for new technologies; and improve the effectiveness of the domestic and international spectrum management processes.

Recognizing that improving the national spectrum management process is a multifaceted undertaking that neither government nor the private sector can accomplish alone, I invited a variety of experts in spectrum management from government, industry and academia to share their thoughts in this area. Two key UTC officials - Bill Moroney and Jill Lyon - also participated in the Summit and provided their views on a variety of issues relative to spectrum management. During the first day's meetings, the panel of technologists and futurists discussed at length how new technologies could maximize spectrum use. Several described the future according to software defined radios and "ultrawideband" technology. Some believe that these emerging wireless technologies of the future will share spectrum and essentially make spectrum allocation obsolete.

As a result of the Spectrum Summit, our spectrum team at NTIA is already working to develop solutions to better manage this essential resource. We expect to have more to report on this in the coming weeks. Currently, I am pleased to report that we have developed four basic goals from the lessons learned from the Summit. These are:

· "One Spectrum Team" in which NTIA, the FCC and the State Department form a collaborative and results-driven working relationship in spectrum management for the common good;

· Spectrum management policies that encourage spectrum efficiency and discourage spectrum waste;

· Forward-looking policies that enable technological advances and eliminate legacy regulations that impede innovation;

· And, perhaps of most interest to this audience, policies that ensure the deployment of robust wireless networks that are prepared for the worst of crises and able to deliver the best of services to the public safety community and the American people.

Specific Spectrum Management Challenges

However, as we take this longer view toward better spectrum management policy, we are also faced with the challenge of addressing specific immediate spectrum management issues. We are currently facing the pressing challenge of ensuring that spectrum is available for future wireless growth, while providing the infrastructure for future public safety needs. The 700 and 800 MHz bands, as well as the spectrum being assessed for 3rd generation wireless technologies, are the subject of intense debates and continuing uncertainties. The allocation decisions will directly impact spectrum used for public safety and critical infrastructures. We are moving forward on these issues, and I thought I would give you an update on where developments are in several areas.

700 MHz. The President signed into law last week legislation that delays most of the 700 MHz auctions. This legislation largely met the Administration's FY 2003 budget legislative proposal to shift the existing statutory auction deadlines for the 700 MHz band. The new law responds to concerns raised by the Administration that the spectrum is being auctioned before the issue of when the radio spectrum will become available to the new users is resolved. Under current law, television broadcasters are not required to vacate the spectrum until 2006, or when 85% of television households have access to digital television, whichever is later. The legislation enables the FCC, the broadcasters, and the potential bidders for the spectrum to work diligently to remove the uncertainties regarding when the spectrum can best be put to use for American consumers.

800 MHz. The FCC recently initiated a reexamination of the 800 MHz allocation scheme in light of continuing public safety interference issues. UTC, of course, has been at the forefront of those ongoing discussions and debates. Obviously, the effects of any proposed changes on critical infrastructure industry licensees must be part of the equation. There are significant investments and important interests that must be recognized as the process moves forward.

Clearly, a consensus industry band plan would be the optimum outcome. As one former FCC Chairman used to say, to trust the government with a delicate task is like depending upon the gnarled hands of a third string catcher to thread the eye of a needle! I will be watching industry deliberations carefully. I am not naïve about the prospects for private sector solutions in this contentious area. However, if there are ways that my NTIA team and I can be of assistance, we are ready to lend a hand.

3G. The U.S. needs new spectrum allocations for 3rd generation wireless (3G). The question is where to find the spectrum needed to deploy it. NTIA and the FCC are currently conducting a viability assessment of the 1710-1770 and 2110-2170 MHz bands as a possible home for 3G services. To complicate matters, this band is currently used by critical defense systems, such as precision guided missiles and satellite communications, which cannot be easily relocated. Our assessment will determine if sharing or relocation could occur in these bands without disrupting these important government communications and ensuring that our national security is not impaired. We expect to conclude this study shortly.


Again, I want to thank UTC for inviting me to this conference. Protecting our Nation's critical infrastructure is extremely important. Efficient and effective use of spectrum will be a key element in achieving that goal. Given the competing demands for this crucial resource, I urge the critical infrastructure industry to be aggressive and inventive in pursuing advanced communications technologies and spectrum efficient methods to ameliorate current issues of congestion and interference. I look forward to working with you in pursuit of our common goal of a safe and secure America.