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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Victory at the DOD Spectrum Summit

Department of Defense Spectrum Summit
Remarks delivered by
Nancy J. Victory
Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information
Administrator, National Telecommunications and Information Administration
Washington, D.C.

December 9, 2002

Thank you for inviting me to participate in this year's conference. It is my distinct pleasure and honor to be here today and to speak to you about my perspectives on spectrum. My agency and I are well-aware of how key spectrum and wireless technologies have become to defense efforts. Not surprisingly, you are not alone in your keen interest in and desire for spectrum. The private sector and other departments of government have discovered its value as well. As we move into the future, the challenge for us all - whether we are spectrum managers or spectrum users - is how to use spectrum better and more efficiently so that all of these beneficial uses can be accommodated.

If I am not mistaken, I believe I am the first assistant secretary from NTIA to speak before this august group. I very much appreciate the opportunity. Though some of you may be familiar with NTIA, others of you may not. Therefore, before I begin my remarks, I think it is appropriate for me to provide a little background on NTIA and its mission.


NTIA's Role in Spectrum Management

In general, NTIA serves as the President's principal advisor on telecommunications policy. With respect to spectrum, we have a very specific role - to manage the radio spectrum used by the Federal agencies in satisfying their missions. In this role, NTIA processes thousands of frequency assignment requests from the Federal agencies each year. In fact, of the 288,000 Federal frequency assignments authorized by NTIA, approximately 40 percent have been provided to the Department of Defense for national defense purposes.

But NTIA does not just process frequency requests. Because of the tremendous demand for spectrum, we also assist in planning and coordinating current and future spectrum use requirements among the Federal agencies. In this regard, NTIA works closely with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), its co-manager of the spectrum, which manages the spectrum for the private sector and for state and local governments. NTIA and the FCC also work closely with the State Department to develop and promote the United States' positions on spectrum management issues within international treaty bodies and other fora.

NTIA has a unique role as both the President's policy advisor and the federal agencies' spectrum manager. This dual role forces us to balance the spectrum interests of the Federal agencies while also advancing policies that promote the benefits of technological developments in the United States for all users of telecommunications services. We therefore try to be an honest broker who keeps everyone's interest in mind. Hopefully, that gives us the credibility we need to promote spectrum efficiency, help solve thorny interference and sharing issues, and plan effectively as to how to accommodate a variety of future spectrum needs - whether they be those of national defense, homeland security, public safety and law enforcement or those of private business.

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 terrorist attacks, 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 is very important. At the same time, however, we must maintain our transportation systems, energy sources, and financial networks when national emergencies arise, such as when terrorists strike.

NTIA is the Government's lead agency for ensuring that the critical communications networks - whether they be wireless or wireline - continue to function in the face of a cyber or physical attack. NTIA is continuing to work with representatives from industry and government to determine how, where, and in what way safeguards can be strengthened and improved to protect the nation's critical infrastructure.

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 cutting edge issues concerning interoperability of equipment and frequency sharing. 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. ITS has also been responsible for landmark testing regarding ultrawideband systems and other cutting edge technology.

Spectrum: A Key to America's Future

Well that's a little bit about what we do at NTIA. But we're here to talk about spectrum - and particularly the transformation of spectrum use and spectrum management as we move into the future. I think of spectrum as an invisible, but indispensable building block for America's future. It is a natural resource that can fuel economic growth, as we saw during the 1990s. It is the key to our nation's digital defense and our citizenry's safety, as this group knows well. And it is the wireless link that can enable anyone, anywhere to access the marvels and information of the worldwide web.

Because of the ever increasing demand for spectrum, spectrum management is under stress and strain from concurrent challenges:

  • First, there is the challenge of the finite nature of the radio spectrum. Additional spectrum cannot be manufactured to accommodate every new use that comes along. Rather, such new uses must be accommodated within the existing - and increasingly crowded - spectrum (this is particularly true in the 0 to 3 GHz range - the beachfront property in which 93 percent of all existing spectrum users are located).
  • Second, there is the challenge of constantly evolving technology. Now, this can be quite helpful in that a new technology can solve difficult efficiency, interference or sharing issues. But it also proves a challenge because even as new problem-solving technologies are developed, operational parameters for the new and surrounding spectrum uses must be re-examined and redesigned to accommodate the new technology. Not surprisingly, this imposes increased pressure on the FCC, NTIA and the Federal agencies to respond more quickly to implementation of new technologies, spectrum distribution, and spectrum issue resolution.
  • Third, there is the challenge to stability and safety. To what extent do new uses and technologies disrupt the stability and performance of existing critical communications systems, and how can this be quickly and comprehensively determined and dealt with prior to the introduction of the new technology? This puts a premium on hypothetical testing and problem solving - one of the reasons that I think NTIA's ITS lab in Boulder is so valuable.
  • And finally, there is the challenge of static processes and legacy regulations in a dynamic field. Processes and regulations put in place to govern static, older technology can serve as a major delay and impediment to the introduction of new publicly beneficial technologies. We have got to figure out how to provide more flexibility to allow the rapid introduction of new technologies and uses in a way that is not disruptive to other users of the spectrum. In other words, how do we get government bureaucracy out of the way where it's not needed and provide more flexibility to existing users of the spectrum?

These are some of the issues we are thinking about within NTIA so that we can effectively and efficiently address the future spectrum needs of the government and the private sector.

Spectrum Summit

As some of you may be aware, earlier this year, 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. The first day of the Summit was built around traditional panel discussions. The first panel featured government and private sector users of spectrum who had "first-hand" knowledge of the current challenges facing the spectrum management process. The second panel included economists and analysts who follow spectrum issues and provided their theoretical views on the issues. The final panel was comprised of technologists and futurists - engineers and future thinkers who enlightened us on new techniques for efficient spectrum use and prognosticated on the future.

On the second day of the Summit, we wanted to roll up our sleeves and have small, but lengthy, group meetings not only to identify issues that needed attention, but also to solicit ideas - and perhaps consensus - on what action was necessary. We had three productive day-long meetings focused on spectrum management policies and how to further improve the process.

The two-day summit gave us a lot of food for thought and, as a result, NTIA developed several basic goals from the lessons learned at the Summit.

  • First, the U.S. government must work together as "One Spectrum Team" in its approach to spectrum. As spectrum become scarcer domestically and globally it is important that there is increased communication among the agencies, particularly those engaged in spectrum management. Our country's spectrum needs are too important to be undermined by internecine squabbling between and within branches of government. As the head of NTIA, I have been committed to building a foundation of trust, collegiality and cooperation in our dealings within the Federal government and in our interactions with the FCC, the State Department and Congress. Chairman Powell at the FCC and David Gross at the State Department have embraced this approach and have helped to develop an action plan to facilitate the efficient functioning of the nation's spectrum management team at home and abroad.
  • Second, there is the need to modernize our spectrum policies so that they are forward-looking. A concerted effort needs to be made to eliminate unnecessary government micromanaging of spectrum uses. This means taking a fresh look at legacy policies, rules and restrictions to assess their ability to accommodate emerging technologies or spectrum needs. Current practice requires users to seek permission from either NTIA or the FCC before changing the services offered over their licensed frequencies. This process can impose time-consuming approval processes that can engender lengthy delays. We need to look at policies that permit flexibility. NTIA has supported the FCC's proposal to allow secondary leasing of spectrum to third parties. We will be exploring whether and to what extent this could work for government users. NTIA has also supported policies that facilitate transitions where relocation of spectrum users may be necessary to the introduction of a new technology. We have implemented rules requiring reimbursement to Federal agencies that give up spectrum for private sector use and we are particularly bullish on a proposal now being considered by Congress to streamline the reimbursement process by creating a fund from spectrum auction proceeds to reimburse the affected Federal agencies.
  • Third, we must pursue policies that encourage spectrum efficiency and that discourage spectrum waste. NTIA has long advocated the use of more spectrum efficient technologies. For example, NTIA has developed and the Federal agencies are now implementing a transition to narrowband technology to relieve congestion in the land mobile radio bands used by the Government. Under NTIA regulations, Federal agencies must convert to narrowband technology in certain land mobile frequencies by 2005 and in all others by 2008. Narrowbanding, where technically possible, holds great promise for increasing the number of channels available to all users of spectrum. We will also be examining other policies to encourage spectrum efficiency.
  • And finally, we must develop spectrum policies that ensure the deployment of robust wireless networks that are prepared for the worst of crises and that are able to deliver the best of services to the government, defense and public safety communities as well as to the American people. In prior years, this may not have been a primary consideration. In today's world, it is all too important. The wireless networks of today and tomorrow must be robust and capable of functioning well, especially under the stress and strain of an emergency situation. NTIA is working hard to make sure its policies and requirements promote such operation. We have also been working with particular spectrum user communities to solve technical challenges to such improved operations, such as with respect to interoperability in the public safety arena.

FCC Policy Task Force

NTIA is not the only agency focused on improving the future of spectrum management. After the NTIA Spectrum Summit, the FCC established a spectrum management policy task force to review and make suggestions to improve the FCC's spectrum management process. The Task Force held several meetings and produced a report that was made available for public comment. In early November, the FCC Task Force announced some of its key findings and recommendations.

One aspect of the Task Force report dealt with "access" and the notion that some spectrum bands were being heavily used in some geographic areas and not in others. In terms of time, on some frequencies spectrum usage was occasional; in others, spectrum usage was more constant. This observation led the FCC staff to posit that spectrum-based services or devices might be able to operate in those "white spaces" or areas where the spectrum bands are not being heavily used. This related to another key finding of the report - that new technologies, such as smart technologies that listen for a free frequency before they transmit, may in the future alleviate many of the spectrum management problems that currently exist. A final key finding concerned "rights and responsibilities," or who is actually responsible for the spectrum and what are their rights. The FCC staff and many of those who have commented on the report advocated a need for a more market-based approach to spectrum use, once certain basic rights and responsibilities of the licensees have been defined.

As a result of its findings, the Task Force in its report issued several recommendations. Let me highlight a few of them. I think you will see some common concepts between the FCC's and NTIA's approaches:

  • One recommendation was that the FCC migrate towards more flexible, market-oriented policies. This means developing flexible rules that provide incentives for more efficient spectrum use by licensed and unlicensed users and facilitating secondary markets in which licensees can lease their unused spectrum to other users.
  • Another was to conduct periodic evaluations of spectrum allocation parameters to ensure that do not unduly impede evolving technologies and uses.
  • The Task Force also recommended that the FCC adopt quantitative standards to provide interference protections for current and future spectrum users. This "interference temperature," which would be established for each band, would govern the types of services that could be introduced into the band for sharing purposes.
  • The report also suggested that rights and responsibilities for licensees be defined and subject to periodic review. In between these reviews, spectrum users should be able to rely on the rules remaining constant.

Future Potential Activities

Based on the foundation laid by NTIA's Spectrum Summit in April and the FCC's recent Spectrum Policy Task Force report, NTIA intends this year to focus on a number of major spectrum issues intended to improve overall spectrum management.

Among other things, NTIA plans to address and enhance spectrum efficiency among government users. The first part of this initiative is to review just how government agencies are using their spectrum today. In this regard, NTIA will be conducting a study of the current and future use of the Federal land mobile spectrum in the Washington/Baltimore area. Based on this use, NTIA will determine the technical improvements or changes via technology, spectrum management practices, and/or standards to increase effectiveness of spectrum use and spectral efficiency. If this approach works, NTIA's efforts would be expanded to the remainder of the land mobile radio services and other radio services as well.

NTIA will also be examining whether certain market-based spectrum policies successful on the private sector side can be applied to the federal government to encourage efficient spectrum use. For example, could secondary leasing options be made available to government licensees to permit them to lease out a portion of their spectrum in non-emergency situations and recover it in the event of an emergency.

NTIA also hopes to address spectrum rights relative to interference protection. Right now there is no standard formula or methodology for determining levels of acceptable interference. That's one of the reasons why negotiating new sharing situations takes so long and is so contentious. This year, NTIA plans to begin identifying the interference protection criteria for various radio services based on national and international sharing studies with the aid of the IRAC and public sector. If this effort is successful, NTIA will consider adopting the interference protection criteria standards into the NTIA Manual of Rules and Regulations with recommendations of the IRAC and public sector. We would also encourage the FCC to adopt these new standards where applicable.

Receiver standards is another area that we hope to investigate since it has the potential to reduce interference and increase sharing.