Remarks of Acting Assistant Secretary Baker at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Telecommunications and Information Working Group

April 24, 2008

APEC TEL MINISTERIAL

“Challenges and Strategies to Promote Universal Service”
April 24, 2008

Meredith Attwell Baker
Acting Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information
NTIA, US Department of Commerce


Introduction

Good morning to everyone!  First things first, I’d like to extend a very sincere thank you to our gracious hosts, Thailand.  It is a true honor to be here among my APEC member economy colleagues.  The collective experience and knowledge represented in this room is remarkable.

As I’m sure you all can relate, when working at home it is easy to be totally consumed by domestic activities, which is why I appreciate opportunities like this to reflect on the bigger picture and be reminded that this truly is a global industry that transcends traditional geographic boundaries.

Why we are here today

Now, while many of our economies may be at differing levels of development, I would be surprised if we did not all share common challenges and objectives, including the promotion of universal access to communications services, which is the theme of this morning’s session.

I am here today to share with you some of our experiences in the United States, including what has worked and not worked, as the Administration has strived to put in place the appropriate polices necessary to meet President Bush’s goal of universal and affordable access to broadband by 2007. 

About NTIA

At my agency, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in the U.S. Department of Commerce, we continuously strive to foster private sector innovation in the communications and information sectors, and broader economic growth.  In fact, NTIA’s authorizing statute directs that the agency seek to advance policies that “facilitate[e] and contribut[e] to the full development of competition, efficiency, and the free flow of commerce in domestic and international telecommunications markets.”

We do that in our role as the principal advisor to the President on domestic and international telecommunications and information policy issues.  As part of our charge, we coordinate with other departments and agencies of the federal government to develop and present the Administration’s views on these issues. 

Broadband

Broadband deployment and its availability to American consumers have been top priorities for NTIA for many years.  However, as part of the broader initiative calling for a “New Generation of American Innovation” – a series of specific measures announced in 2004 to ensure that our economy remained among the most flexible, advanced and productive in the world – the President specifically called for “universal, affordable access for broadband technology” by 2007 and, thereafter, plenty of consumer choice among broadband providers.

The motivation for the goal was simple:  providing American consumers with the most affordable and highest quality broadband service in the world would enhance our economic productivity and competitiveness, and offer American consumers life-enhancing applications. 

To achieve this broadband goal, the Administration sought to create an environment that would encourage capital investment and allow technical innovation and competition to flourish.  That is, a concerted effort by the private sector was seen as the most effective approach to achieve the goal.

Complementing our system of private enterprise, the Administration pursued a comprehensive, integrated package of policies – technological, regulatory, and fiscal – designed to lower barriers and provide incentives for the investment and deployment of broadband technologies.

In terms of technology policy, past experiences already taught us that technology neutral decision making and policies are the best approach for the United States. This policy has yielded an array of competing broadband services offered over a diverse variety of platforms.

Also key to the Administration’s pro-technology agenda is making spectrum resources available to support development of new technologies and services, including broadband communications. A number of policies have been implemented to open up this limited resource by improving spectrum management policies and practices to increase spectrum efficiency, reallocating Federal spectrum so that it can be used for new applications, and maximizing opportunities for the unlicensed use of spectrum wherever possible.  

From a regulatory policy perspective, the Administration has steadfastly advocated removing regulatory obstacles that could thwart the investment that fuels development – and deployment – of new technologies.  This has included targeted deregulation to promote facilities-based investment.

Fiscal policies, such as tax relief, have been a cornerstone of the Administration.  In particular, President Bush has consistently championed for a permanent suspension on taxation of Internet access.  The President has also forcefully advocated extending and making permanent a tax credit for research and development spending.  Further, the Administration has provided targeted seed-funding to support more rapid deployment of broadband in underserved rural areas.

Analyzing the results

As we began to analyzed the impact of these policies and estimate the nation’s attainment of the President’s goal at the end of last year, we found that U.S. consumers are enjoying the fruits of a vigorous broadband marketplace in which carriers across a range of technological platforms compete against one another on price, speed, mobility, content, and other service features.

We also found that broadband accessibility and penetration have increased sharply, and consumers have more opportunities than ever to choose the broadband solution that best suits their needs and budget.

Since President Bush took office, the total number of broadband lines in the United States grew by more than 1,100 percent, from almost 6.8 million lines in December 2000, to 82.5 million lines in December 2006.  We also found that in 99 percent of the zip codes in the United States, over 99 percent of the public has access to at least one broadband provider, and in most zip codes, our citizens have access to more than one broadband provider. 

Our findings, along with a review of the policies adopted to get us there, were described in “Networked Nation:  Broadband in America 2007,” released by NTIA this past January.

However, when the report was issued we didn’t proclaim the job done and head for home.  Rather, we strongly endorse efforts to improve data collection and to identify communities, especially in remote areas, where broadband deployment has not been as rapid and fewer choices are available to consumers.  We believe it is equally important to ensure that the second part of the President’s goal – consumer choice of broadband providers – is more fully met.

Conclusion

You have all likely heard much about international comparisons in broadband deployment and uptake.  Some studies have suggested that the United States lags behind other economies, while other studies suggest that the United States is the world’s broadband leader.

My point today is that it shouldn’t be about ranking economies against one another or vying to be at the top of some international list.  Rather it should be about each of us recognizing our historical legacies, developing pro-competitive, technology neutral policies that support broadband infrastructure and service deployment, and learning from each other’s experiences.  Though broadband deployment may serve for some as a proxy in measuring economic progress, it is in the interests of all economies, all people, and the global economy that broadband services and applications reach every corner of the globe. 

APEC, and APEC TEL in particular, has assisted this process by establishing regional goals such as those embodied in the 2000 Brunei Leaders Statement that called for universal Internet access by the year 2010.  APEC Leaders meeting in Korea in 2005 went a step further by endorsing the TEL’s “Key Principles for Broadband Development” and encouraging member economies to strive for universal broadband access.  

Commitment at the highest political levels to improve access is critical, and I for one would like to applaud APEC for its leadership and visionary approach to improving access in the region.  I’d also like to recognize and applaud APEC TEL for continuing to provide the invaluable platform for discussion and the sharing of experiences and best practices as our economies work to improve access to communications services.

Thank you for allowing me to share with you all some of the details about the U.S. experience in achieving universal and affordable access to broadband.  Our work is not done.  Speaking for myself and my staff, we look forward to continued discussion and sharing of experiences in the TEL on these and other matters moving forward.