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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Victory at the Computer Law Association and Federal Communications Bar Association Conference

The Response to Terror
April 18, 2002

Keynote Address of
Assistant Secretary Nancy J. Victory
before the
Computer Law Association & Federal Communications Bar Association
Conference on The Response to Terror:
New Laws, Rules and Strategies for IT and Telecom
Washington, D.C.
April 18, 2002

It is a pleasure to be here today to address this conference jointly sponsored by the Computer Law Association and the Federal Communications Bar Association. Important topic you've picked - "The Response to Terror." Last spring who would have imagined that you all would be convening a conference on terror or that this issue would be personally relevant to our lives.

The fact of the matter is that our world changed dramatically on September 11, 2001. It's shaken our confidence a bit and significantly narrowed those places in which we feel truly safe. It's caused us to look differently at airline travel and working in a landmark building. For many of us, it's rearranged our priorities - particularly with respect to family and friends. And for those of us in the telecommunications and IT sector, it's raised some new challenges and added a new dimension to some old familiar ones.

In the wake of September 11th, there has been renewed emphasis on securing our critical telecommunications networks and protecting our businesses from cybercrime. Several of the panels today will examine these efforts in more detail. There has also been more attention focused on ensuring that our military is properly equipped to defend our country abroad, and that our law enforcement and first responders have what they need to prevent and/or minimize the effects of any future attacks here at home. While some of this debate has focused on weapons, protection gear, and antidotes to biohazards, a good deal of it has centered on how to improve the ability of these public servants and protectors to communicate - particularly when they are on the move.

Indeed, spectrum-based communications have become a critical element in fighting the modern war. Spectrum was used more in the fighting in Afghanistan than in any other time in our military's history. Spectrum supported everything from basic two-way communications to radar to unmanned reconnaissance planes to precision-guided missiles. Spectrum also made it possible for commanders to observe battlefield conditions in real time video, whether those commanders were in Kandahar, in Florida, or at the Pentagon in Washington. Wireless communications is also critical to public safety response efforts here at home. The ability of public safety workers to quickly gather and relay information on the scene of an emergency can save lives.

As the manager of the federal government's use of spectrum, we at NTIA directly support these national defense, law enforcement and public safety efforts. NTIA's charge is to help federal agencies meet their radiocommunications needs under any conditions from peacetime to national emergencies. In special cases, such as the September 11th terrorists attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, NTIA responded with a 24 hour-a-day, 7 day-a-week special frequency operation to process special requests by Federal agencies for search and rescue and associated operations at the site of these attacks, related law enforcement activities, and spectrum requirements for DOD special operations. NTIA processed emergency requests from DOD, the Departments of Justice, Treasury and Energy, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the White House Communications Agency, and the American Red Cross. To meet DOD's special spectrum needs, NTIA expedited coordination of more than 6,700 such assignments through the use of a special computer automation process.

That adequate and effective wireless communications is a key component of fighting today's war and keeping the homeland secure should not be surprising. We are all aware of how communications, particularly spectrum-based communications, has revolutionized the commercial sector - improving efficiency, reducing turn-around time, and allowing for better decisions based upon more perfect information. I bet all of us in this room know firsthand that better communications means better business. Spectrum-based communications have also enhanced the lives of Americans in countless non-business ways, unchaining workers from their desks, providing a means of enhanced personal safety and, through broadcast radio and television, providing free, nearly universal access to information and entertainment. And many additional beneficial spectrum-based uses are on the horizon.

Clearly, then, spectrum-based technologies are important to our future - regardless of whether your perspective is defense, public safety, commerce, or just individual pleasure. If the U.S. is going to continue to be a leader on the battlefield and in business, we have got to find spectrum to deploy all of these vital new wireless products and services.

Of course, that's easier said than done. The spectrum is finite and it is in great demand. Further, planning and building systems is expensive, time consuming and disruptive, so moving or changing the parameters of existing systems cannot be undertaken lightly. Unfortunately, because of these challenges, the search for spectrum for new technologies or expanded uses of existing ones often seems to pit the innovators against the incumbents. The debates get cast as an "either/or" proposition. That needs to change. Through technology and good spectrum management, we need to find a way to accommodate new as well as critical existing systems, and commercial as well as government uses. Let's face it, Americans benefit greatly from all of these. We should strive to accommodate all necessary needs and to choose carefully where choices must be made.

That's the reason NTIA convened its own spectrum summit recently to kick off its inquiry into how to better manage this finite resource. The purpose of the summit was to gather information about new and innovative ideas for spectrum policy and management that encourage spectrum efficiency; that provide spectrum for new technologies; and that improve the effectiveness of the domestic and international spectrum management process. We called in a variety of experts in spectrum management from government, industry and academia - a broad cross-section of leadership and thinking in the spectrum arena. I was also particularly pleased about the extensive participation of the FCC in our two-day Summit. Chairman Powell and Commissioners Martin and Abernathy helped co-moderate panels with me and over 40 FCC staffers attended. Pursuant to federal law, the FCC and NTIA are co-managers of the radio spectrum. It is essential that we work together in addressing the challenges of spectrum management and I am pleased that we began this process side-by-side.

As I noted at the opening of the Summit, we were mostly in "listening mode" over the two-day event. While I and my colleagues at NTIA attempted to ask pointed questions to stimulate discussion, the idea was to hear from the experts as to the successes and failures of current spectrum management policies as well as how to further improve the process. And hear we did!

One of the first things we heard was wide agreement that better coordination within the government on spectrum management is needed. Several participants commented about how cooperation and communication among the various agencies engaged in spectrum management - the FCC, NTIA, and, for international issues, the State Department - was so important. Given that a good portion of the spectrum is shared between federal government and non-federal government use, many spectrum decisions require the review and input of both the FCC and NTIA. International issues must be coordinated among FCC, NTIA and the State Department as well as with U.S. industry. Apparently just the notion of the agencies putting our heads together - or bashing them together as Chairman Powell and I did by accident at one point that first morning - is something that has been missing from the spectrum management process.

Length and complexity of process was another issue. Several participants noted how long it takes and how painful it is to allocate spectrum. One criticism was that the process is usually too reactive - waiting until the technology is ready to deploy before beginning the allocation process, rather than anticipating future spectrum needs. Yet, most readily acknowledged how difficult it is to predict the future. Another problem cited was that the allocation process too often pits advocates of new technology against incumbents - making it a contentious "either/or" debate instead of focusing on how best to get publicly beneficial services out to our citizens.

Several of the participants emphasized that the rights inherent in a spectrum license are just not clear. As one panelist said, "you need to know what you're getting into." While there was general agreement that these rights should be better defined, there definitely was not agreement as to what that definition should be. A few indicated that a "one size fits all" strategy would likely not work; license rights probably would need to differ depending on the type of license.

There was also significant discussion as to how to make way for new services in already allocated spectrum. Where the incumbent users are to be relocated to another part of the spectrum, the panelists emphasized that the rules of relocation (and that means of negotiation and compensation) need to be determined up front. Reducing uncertainty and eliminating surprises speeds the process. Others raised the scenario where an incumbent use was unsuccessful or technologically outdated. Several indicated that, in this situation, the government may need to just take back the spectrum. All present recognized that this was easier said than done.

Our technologists and futurists talked at length about new technologies for maximizing spectrum use. Several described the future according to software defined radios or frequency-hopping technology. No need for elaborate allocation plans or channels buffers. Wireless technologies of the future would share spectrum and be smart enough to transmit only on a free channel. There was also some discussion that more sophisticated technology, particularly in receivers, could maximize spectrum use by reducing the size of guard bands and channel spacing. Not surprisingly, there is a sliding scale between cost and efficiency.

One of the things that surprised me most at the summit was the interest expressed by several government and commercial users in exploring ways to share the same system. Obviously, this won't work for all uses, but if we can eliminate some redundant systems, we can clearly increase efficiency and open up some spectrum for new services.

And if the technical and process issues weren't complex enough, there are political overtones that complicate all of the spectrum management issues. One panelist called it the "800 pound gorilla" overshadowing all of these issues.

Clearly, our two-day summit gave us lots of food for thought. Tackling spectrum management will not be a short-term project for sure, but one we must tackle thoroughly and thoughtfully. And don't expect that the end result of our efforts will be a report that will get dusty sitting on a shelf. Rather, we intend to turn what we learn into action items to effect the changes needed to better manage this essential resource.

Our spectrum team at NTIA is already meeting and identifying follow-up "to dos." While we're not quite ready to lay out the full agenda of our spectrum management initiative, I can highlight for you today a couple of themes or issue areas that should figure prominently in that agenda:

Government Working Together - Teamwork Not Turf Wars. First, a core message at the summit was the need for teamwork to replace turf wars. Our country's spectrum needs are too important to be undermined by internecine squabbling between and within branches of government. As head of NTIA, I am committed to building a foundation of trust, collegiality and cooperation in our dealings within the federal government and our interactions with the FCC, the State Department and Congress. In pursuit of that objective, I will be having discussions with Chairman Powell at the FCC and David Gross at the State Department to develop an action plan to facilitate the efficient functioning of the nation's spectrum management team at home and abroad.

Modernizing Spectrum Policies - Eliminating Out Dated Micro-Managing. Second, we need to make a concerted effort to eliminate unnecessary government micromanaging of spectrum uses. This means taking a fresh look at legacy rules and restrictions to assess their ability to accommodate emerging technologies or spectrum needs. As a starting point, NTIA has already supported the elimination of spectrum caps and the liberalization of spectrum leases. With the FCC's Biennial Review about to begin for wireless services, I will be very interested in hearing where and how vestigial obligations can be removed and improvements can be ensured.

Better Anticipating Future Technologies - Looking to the Spectrum Future Rather Than the Spectrum Past. Third, the rapid pace of technological innovations in wireless often creates a substantial risk that regulations will be outdated and counterproductive. At NTIA, we will be focusing on where things will be heading rather than where they have been. Our goal will be to fashion forward-looking policies that enable rather than retard advances. NTIA's Institute for Telecommunications Services in Boulder, Colorado will be playing an increasingly prominent role in that initiative.

Removing "Clouds" Over Spectrum Availability - Clear Skies Rather Than a Clouded Vision. Finally, the continued evolution of wireless products and services - both for government as well as private sector uses - depends upon continued spectrum availability, either through more efficient technologies or through more efficient management techniques. We need to remove the clouds over spectrum availability and provide certainty for the deployment of new services. Two possibilities for new mobile spectrum homes - 800 MHz and the spectrum being assessed for 3G - are the subject of intense debates and continuing uncertainties. These bands directly impact spectrum used for defense or public safety. Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions. We will need to search for outcomes that benefit all of the participants fairly rather than gains for some at the expense of others.

800 MHz. At 800 MHz, efforts are underway to try to create a capacity-rich and fully functional future for public safety wireless communications. An orderly plan for public safety and critical infrastructure licensees is a must. The FCC's recently announced examination of the current 800 MHz band plan is a good starting point and catalyst for rethinking how things should be done in the future, rather than simply tinkering with what has evolved over time. Public safety and critical infrastructure services need our attention and need an interference-free environment. Further, federal, state and local public safety systems need a plan for an effective and orderly transition to a fully interoperable web of systems.

3G. Much has been written about the proposed next generation of commercial wireless systems or 3G. The difficulty has been - where to come up with the spectrum needed to deploy it, particularly how to find spectrum that might match up with allocations elsewhere in the world to facilitate economies of scale and global roaming. 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. This assessment is made particularly complex by the fact that the 1710-1770 MHz band is currently used by critical, and not easily relocated, defense systems, such as precision guided missiles and satellite communications. The purpose of the assessment is to see if and how sharing or relocation could occur without unduly disrupting these important government communications. We hope to conclude this study within the next few months. The study will then be a significant factor in a public interest determination as to whether to make that spectrum available for 3G.

In conclusion, the NTIA Spectrum Summit was not a one-time event with all show and no substance. We will be aggressively building upon the ideas and contributions of the event's participants. We will be working hard to identify and implement solutions. We will be soliciting ideas and reactions along the way. And, most importantly of all, we will be working as part of one Spectrum Team in which collaboration for the common good must be the hallmark of our efforts. It is important that we succeed. The future of our country's ability to communicate - for defense, public safety, commercial and personal reasons - hangs in the balance.