This is the second post in our “Spotlight on NTIA” blog series, which is highlighting the work that NTIA employees are doing to advance NTIA’s mission of promoting broadband adoption, finding spectrum to meet the growing demand for wireless technologies, and ensuring the Internet remains an engine for innovation and economic growth.
Karl Nebbia, associate administrator of the Office of Spectrum Management, has among the most challenging jobs at NTIA: finding enough spectrum to meet both the government’s and industry’s need for wireless technologies.
NTIA is in charge of managing spectrum used by federal agencies to perform a plethora of critical functions for the United States from air traffic control to weather satellites to fighting forest fires.
But Nebbia’s office  also is working to help meet the president’s goal of finding 500 megahertz of spectrum for wireless broadband over the next decade. As part of this effort, Nebbia has been guiding the Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee, which has been working with other federal agencies and industry stakeholders to identify bands of federal spectrum that can be freed up for commercial use.
“The most difficult challenge is trying to accommodate all of these new systems and doing it with pretty limited staff,” says Nebbia, who has worked in spectrum management at NTIA for three decades.
Nebbia is being honored for his work at NTIA by the Federal Communications Bar Association, which is giving him its sixth annual award for outstanding government service at its June 20th spring reception. The award recognizes long-term federal employees in the field of communications who are “dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in public service,” according to the FCBA’s May newsletter.
Nebbia, who oversees the biggest office within NTIA, first started at the agency in 1983. He began his career in spectrum management at IIT Research Institute, working on a contract with the Defense Department’s Electromagnetic Compatibility Analysis Center. A U.S. Naval Academy graduate, Nebbia served five years in the Marine Corps as an artillery officer but chose not to make a career in the military. Unlike most of his predecessors in his current post, he does not have an engineering degree. Despite this, Nebbia says his military background proved useful when he landed in spectrum management.
The Defense Department is the biggest user of federal spectrum. IIT needed people who understood the military and not just the technical side of spectrum management. Once Nebbia, who has a business management degree, immersed himself in learning the terminology and concepts related to spectrum management, his speaking, negotiating and management skills became critical aspects of his work.
He says one of the most rewarding aspects of his job is having the chance to work with a very dedicated staff. “It makes every day a worthwhile thing,” Nebbia says.
Nebbia has held several positions at NTIA and has represented the agency in its international spectrum coordination work. Nebbia briefly left NTIA in 1986 to serve as pastor at his local church for about a year. He said his brief stint as a preacher helped him when he returned to NTIA by making it easier for him to speak in front of large groups. He has since returned to the pulpit on occasion as part of a rotating cast of preachers at the church he attends.
When he’s not at the office, Nebbia enjoys spending time with his four children and six grandchildren and also giving tours of his alma mater, the U.S. Naval Academy, in Annapolis, Md.