Remarks of Assistant Secretary Strickling at the U.S. Defense Department's 2009 Spectrum Symposium

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Remarks by Lawrence E. Strickling, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Department of Defense Spectrum Symposium 2009
Crystal City, VA
October 14, 2009

– As Prepared for Delivery –

Thanks for that introduction. I have asked Karl Nebbia to join me on stage, partly to help me answer questions after my remarks but also to give him some recognition. Karl is the epitome of a dedicated public servant who has spent his career trying to act in the country’s best interests. Please join me in recognizing his efforts.

It’s a great pleasure to be able to address this audience, which has contributed so much, not only to our nation’s security and well-being, but also to the country’s cutting-edge technologies. At NTIA, we appreciate the creativity and innovation you have brought to the use of wireless technologies.

For example, consider the recent developments in dynamic access technologies. This is all the buzz on the commercial side as the FCC grapples with improving the efficiency of spectrum use by commercial firms. But this is only possible because of the work done by the Department of Defense. DARPA first conceived of dynamic spectrum access technologies and was the first to put the technology into the field. Military radios are using them. And we hope to see deployment spread into more commercial use. So it is in that spirit of appreciation and respect for DOD’s accomplishments that I speak to you today.

Today I would like to focus on the priorities and policies of the Obama Administration as they relate to radio spectrum and wireless services. Our policies in this area stem from an overall imperative of the Administration to expand the availability of broadband throughout America so that all Americans have affordable access to broadband.

This goal is important for two reasons. First, it is a key element of the President’s strategy to build the innovation economy of the future. The President’s innovation plan, announced three weeks ago, makes clear that the foundation for durable, sustainable economic growth must be innovation and investment. Innovation--basically the development of new products, services and processes--is the key to our global competitiveness, to new and better jobs and a resilient economy.

The plan has three parts. First, to invest in the building blocks of innovation; second, to promote competitive markets that spur productive entrepreneurship; and third, to catalyze breakthroughs for national priorities such as clean energy, health information technology and advanced vehicle technology. Critical to the first of these efforts--investing in the building blocks of innovation--is the development of an advanced technology ecosystem, which includes providing all Americans affordable broadband access.

But there is a second compelling reason supporting our broadband policy. Just as important as economic development, the broadband ecosystem is critical to ensuring the full and free exchange of information through an open Internet where citizens can freely express themselves and learn from information offered by others wherever they live. Broadband is also important to support the development of a transparent and connected government and the use of technological tools to promote citizen participation in government decision making.

The Recovery Act passed by Congress last February puts us on the path to achieve our broadband goals. The Act creates three separate but related tasks relating to broadband. First, the Act provides over $7 billion to NTIA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service to be distributed as competitive grants and loans to deploy broadband networks in unserved and underserved areas of the country. We have had a remarkable response to the program. Our first call for applications led to our receiving applications seeking over $28 billion in funding--seven times what we had set aside for the first round.

Second, the Recovery Act also directs NTIA to work with the states to develop a national broadband map by February 2011. We have already begun to award grants to states to collect and verify data on the availability of broadband services and look forward to awarding grants to every state in the coming weeks.

Third, the Recovery Act directs the FCC to develop a national broadband plan by next February. For the last few months, the FCC has been conducting workshops and assembling reams of data for the plan, which we all hope will provide a definitive roadmap for ensuring that all Americans will reap the benefits of broadband.

Needless to say, radio spectrum and wireless services are critical elements in our overall broadband policy. Mobile broadband use is exploding in the United States. The number of active mobile Internet users has doubled in the past two years to over 40 million users. The growth rate for the adoption of mobile broadband is greater than the growth rate for DSL and cable modem services combined. The rapid adoption of smart phones, such as the iPhone, is leading to greater and greater demands for radio spectrum. Downloading YouTube videos, participating in video conferences, and looking up information on the Internet utilize much more bandwidth than mobile voice calls and we can expect that the projected volumes of mobile data traffic will grow exponentially in the future.

These facts have led the commercial mobile industry to refer to the current state of affairs as the “looming spectrum crisis.” Just two weeks ago, CTIA sounded the call to have at least 800 MHz of new spectrum be made available for licensed commercial wireless services. FCC Chairman Genachowski last week echoed the need for more spectrum and stated that one of his highest priorities will be to, in his own words, “close the spectrum gap.” So, the handwriting is on the wall--looking for new spectrum for mobile broadband uses is going to be a priority for policymakers.

Already, Congress is proposing legislation to mandate the development of a spectrum inventory by both NTIA and FCC. The inventory envisioned by these bills would provide greater transparency into who is using both commercial and government spectrum and what they are using it for. The House bill specifically directs that the inventory be used to identify underutilized spectrum and to recommend possible reallocations.

The Administration supports the concept of a spectrum inventory. But I know that national security agencies have concerns about the draft legislation, particularly relating to the possible disclosure of sensitive information about the location and capabilities of classified federal spectrum facilities and uses. I assure you that we will work with you to protect national security information. I also want to assure you that we are committed to making sure all obligations relating to any inventory fall equally on both federal and commercial users of spectrum.

No decision has been made yet to reallocate spectrum in response to industry’s calls for more frequencies but if and when such a review is undertaken, we will insist on two key principles. First, that the growing needs of national security agencies for spectrum are fully considered and second, that we evaluate commercial uses of spectrum, not just federal uses, to determine what frequencies might be reallocated.

Now, if after a thorough review, a decision is made to reallocate federal spectrum for licensed commercial use, we are committed to making the process of reallocation as smooth as possible for any affected federal agency. We support the framework of the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act in making some of the proceeds from spectrum auctions available to reimburse federal agencies moving out of the auctioned frequencies. But it is clear to me that the tools of the CSEA need to be reviewed for possible improvements.

This past summer, NTIA issued a Notice of Inquiry (NOI), requesting public comment on how well the CSEA worked for the AWS auction of the 1710-1755 MHz band. Many private sector parties echoed a concern that Federal agencies have raised--the need for “start up” funds to ensure that the reallocation process goes smoothly. Right now, funds do not become available until after a successful auction. This means that when the starting bell rings, Federal agencies may not be able to do the work necessary for a smooth and swift transition. There have also been questions as to whether a Federal agency should be entitled to replace an old system with state-of-the-art equipment, even if that is more expensive and requires new functionalities. These and other issues need to be examined, and we look to DOD and other federal agencies to work with us on any effort to improve the relocation process.

In addition to what I’ve already described, we have plenty of other spectrum-related initiatives underway at NTIA. As most of you know, much of this work was organized in the last Administration as the President’s Spectrum Policy Initiative. We are currently reviewing the status of all of these activities to determine which ones we should continue. We welcome your input as to which of the activities you have found worthwhile as well as those you think we should abandon.

I am pleased to say we will be restarting the Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee on October 27. CSMAC will continue to focus primarily, although not exclusively, on Federal spectrum use and management.

Our Spectrum Sharing Innovation Test Bed has been launched at our lab in Boulder, Colorado and is evaluating the ability of geo-location and sensing devices to share land mobile radio spectrum. This initiative is providing an important opportunity for Federal agencies to work cooperatively with industry, researchers and academia to evaluate these new technologies. We have high hopes for dynamic spectrum access and related innovations to make spectrum use as efficient as possible and to solve the challenges presented when different users and different devices are trying to operate in the same frequency band.

We will continue to encourage strategic spectrum planning among agencies. We are completing the update to the Federal Strategic Spectrum Plan using the agency updates submitted in late 2007. We will be evaluating what, if any, changes we want to make to that planning process and again will look to DOD and other agencies for input before we make any decisions.

In conclusion, I thank you again for the opportunity to speak here today. We take very seriously our role as federal spectrum manager and the support we provide to the missions of nearly seventy federal agencies. We are proud of our expertise and of the long history we have of working with the skilled professionals in DOD and other federal agencies and I look forward to working with you as we meet the spectrum challenges of the next several years.