Keynote Remarks of Deputy Assistant Secretary Gomez at the Congressional Black Caucus Institution's 21st Century Council Broadband Forum

Topics/Subtopics: 
Remarks by Anna Gomez, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Congressional Black Caucus Institution
Washington, D.C.
September 14, 2010

– As Prepared for Delivery –

Thank you, Larry, for the introduction, and thank you to the Congressional Black Caucus Institute’s 21st Century Council for inviting me to participate in this morning’s forum.

I applaud the Council for devoting its attention in this forum to the topic of broadband Internet access. 

I am proud to serve as a member of the Obama Administration in my position with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration which is situated within the Department of Commerce. 

NTIA serves as the principal advisor to the President on telecommunications and information policy and, in that vein, we are playing a leadership role to realize the President’s vision of a nationwide, 21st century communications infrastructure and an Internet open for innovation and social progress, both domestically and globally.

Broadband Stimulus Programs

As we’re all too aware, those on the wrong side of the digital divide also often lack adequate health care, living wage jobs, quality education, and affordable housing.  The Obama Administration understands, however, that broadband can provide opportunities that affirm individual dignity, improve productivity, and enhance our country’s global competitiveness.

This summer, President Obama observed:

“Studies have shown that when communities adopt broadband access, it can lead to hundreds of thousands of new jobs.  Broadband can remove geographic barriers between patients and their doctors.  It can connect our kids to the digital skills and 21st Century education required for the jobs of the future.  And it can prepare America to run on clean energy by helping us upgrade to a smarter, stronger, more secure electrical grid.”

The President delivered those remarks as he announced investments in broadband projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act).  NTIA and the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service are administering a $7 billion initiative to expand broadband access and adoption.  Specifically, NTIA is utilizing approximately $4 billion of that funding for grants through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). 

BTOP projects will extend broadband access to unserved and underserved areas of the country and to vulnerable populations, including minorities, low income residents, the aged, the unemployed, and people with disabilities.  Specifically, these projects will deploy broadband infrastructure, enhance capacity at public computing centers, and support projects to encourage non-users to subscribe to broadband services.

To encourage African-Americans and other minorities to participate in BTOP, NTIA conducted six minority outreach workshops, including events in Birmingham, Alabama, Atlanta, Georgia, and Detroit, Michigan, targeting the African-American community.  We strongly encouraged partnerships among a range of stakeholders, and urged the participation of socially and economically disadvantaged small businesses (SDBs) by providing additional consideration to those applications submitted by SDBs or by applicants partnering with them. 

Let me give you a couple of examples of the types of projects that received funding and the communities and citizens that will benefit from these projects.

  • NTIA awarded a BTOP comprehensive community infrastructure grant of $59.3 million to Trillion Communications, a large minority-owned firm, to fund the South Central Alabama Broadband Commission, a public-private partnership to bring high-capacity broadband capabilities to eight central, rural Alabama counties.  The partnership—which consists of local governments, colleges and universities (including 2 historically black colleges and universities), medical providers, nonprofit institutions, and the Poarch Creek Tribe—will provide free, community-funded Internet services to vulnerable populations in these economically distressed areas, and enhance public safety services by creating an interoperable network.
  • NTIA also awarded a grant of $934,000 to Coppin State University, a historically black university in Baltimore, Maryland, to support the Coppin Heights-Rosemont Family Computer Center, a 60-workstation center with broadband access in Baltimore’s low-income, minority community of Coppin Heights-Rosemont.  The grant funds will also support training and educational courses serving more than 500 users per week and more than 12,000 unique users over 2 years designed to attract the participation of entire families to improve their education, health, and quality of life. 

We believe these two projects, among others, reflect the strong community partnerships that we’d like other minority serving institutions (MSIs) to emulate as anchor institutions within their respective communities.  Therefore, we’ve invited Trillion and Coppin State to share their experiences at a technical assistance and capacity building conference for MSIs that the Commerce Department is hosting with several other federal departments and agencies next week in Dallas.  

We are now turning our attention to ensuring that the investments we’ve made in these BTOP-funded projects will help communities across the country to fulfill their potential.  Many opportunities remain to build on proposed projects, regardless of whether they received Recovery Act funding, to ensure that your community receives better, faster, more affordable broadband service.

To help maximize these opportunities and to facilitate the partnerships we believe are so critical to the sustainability of BTOP projects, NTIA is re-launching BroadbandMatch.  We established this online tool at the start of BTOP’s second grant round and are continuing it as an ongoing resource for communities.  There, grantees seeking vendors and others desiring to collaborate on broadband projects will find potential partners.

 We are hopeful that additional minority vendors will be able to benefit from the BTOP grants by pairing up with grantees using the BroadbandMatch tool.

Broadband Mapping

Congress also directed NTIA to use Recovery Act funding to develop a national broadband map.  Under our program, we have awarded 54 grants to 50 states, three territories, and the District of Columbia, totaling more than $100 million.  States are using these grants to collect and verify data on broadband availability as well as to support statewide broadband planning and implementation efforts. 
 
This unprecedented national broadband map will be available to the public no later than February 2011. It will educate consumers and businesses about broadband availability, enable broadband providers and investors to make better-informed decisions regarding the use of their private capital, and allow federal, state, and local policy-makers to make more data-driven decisions on behalf of their constituents.

Turning to FCC’s National Broadband Plan

From the standpoint of the Administration, the FCC’s crafting of a National Broadband Plan has provided our nation with a unique opportunity to chart a path forward to leverage the Internet to benefit consumers, enhance commerce, and address important public safety and national security priorities.

In our submissions to the FCC regarding the Broadband Plan, NTIA examined the virtuous cycle of innovation and growth that has characterized the Internet.  That is, we describe how networks of increasing capacity trigger the development of applications and services that bring ever greater benefits to consumers and businesses, thus driving more investment in infrastructure.  Despite this progress, we also know that many consumers lack significant choice when it comes to broadband providers and some consumers have no choice at all.  Thus, NTIA urged the FCC to examine ways of creating an environment for greater competition that will continue to drive that virtuous cycle, concerns that are indeed well reflected in the Plan. 

The FCC’s National Broadband Plan represents an important milestone by identifying the cross-cutting importance of broadband in modern society, by analyzing mechanisms for ensuring and maximizing the availability of broadband access to all, and by making many recommendations on improving the nation’s broadband landscape. 

 U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra therefore established a Broadband Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on Technology, co-chaired by NTIA Administrator Larry Strickling, and Scott Blake Harris, General Counsel of the Department of Energy.

The interagency group is charged with advising the Administration on ways to increase nationwide access, to and adoption of broadband.  

As it pursues its objectives, the group is mindful that the Plan is not the end of the story but merely a catalyst for Administration action.
 

Internet Policy Task Force

Just as broadband deployment is an important goal, developing appropriate policies in an Internet environment is a key part of ensuring that citizens adopt broadband.

Last November, President Obama held an unprecedented town hall meeting with students in Shanghai, China. In response to a question about the openness of the Internet, the President called himself a “big believer” in technology and the free flow of information.  He referred to the lack of censorship by our government as a “tradition,” and added that “the fact that we have a free Internet or unrestricted Internet access is a source of strength, and…should be encouraged.”

The Internet’s open, end-to-end architecture and the freedom of individuals to leverage that structure have fueled tremendous creativity, innovation, and economic growth throughout its short history.  This growth was able to occur because of the processes by which the Internet evolved and grew—particularly through the involvement of key multi-stakeholder institutions.  Those who were involved with the Internet’s design pursued certain key architectural principles.  And those principles have direct policy impacts.

As the importance of the Web grows with each passing day, it is imperative that we take maximum advantage of the successful Internet organizational models.  We have a responsibility to ensure our principles – our policies – are producing desirable outcomes.  And the challenge for government today is to build on the cooperative, global, voluntary spirit that is the hallmark of the Internet.   The challenge for government is to find ways to help the growing list of Internet stakeholders participate in the development of not only technology, but also public policy solutions that address the Internet’s leading policy concerns.  The model may not be new, but what is new is the need to apply this model to a broader range of issues not just technical or administrative, but also social and legal challenges.

Preserving, enhancing, and increasing access to an open, global Internet for all is an important policy priority of the Obama Administration.  To that end, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced earlier this year the formation of an Internet Policy Task Force to identify leading public policy and operational challenges in the Internet environment.  NTIA is actively involved in the Task Force, along with colleagues from the Secretary’s office and other bureaus of the Department, including the International Trade Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and the Bureau of Industry and Security.

The starting point for the Task Force’s agenda is the recognition that it is imperative for the sustainability and continued growth of the Internet that we preserve the trust of all of its actors. For example, if users do not trust that their personal information is safe on the Internet, they will not use it.  If content providers do not trust that their content will be protected, they will threaten to stop putting it online. If large enterprises fear that their network will be breached over the Internet, they will be reluctant to take full advantage of the ability to link to their suppliers and customers.  If governments around the world do not trust Internet governance systems, they will threaten to balkanize the Internet’s addressing and naming system which will jeopardize the worldwide reach of the Internet.

The Task Force is focused on four principal issues. 

The first is Internet privacy: We are focused on answering the question of how to enable the development of innovative new services and applications that will make intensive use of personal information, but at same time protect users against harm and unwanted intrusion into their privacy.

Next is cybersecurity: In this policy area, the question is how to meet the security challenge posed by the global Internet, with increased law enforcement and private sector technology innovation on the one hand while respecting citizen privacy and protecting civil liberties on the other.

Third is copyright protection: The Task Force is seeking to understand how to protect against illegal piracy of copyrighted works and intellectual property on the Internet while preserving the rights of users to access lawful content. 

Finally, Internet trade and the free flow of information:  The Task Force is examining how to work with U.S. businesses and other entities to understand the economic impact that restrictions on global flows of information have on U.S. trade and investment. 

NTIA also has looked at the issue of child protection and freedom of expression.  Here our inquiry focuses on understanding, as more children go online, how we can ensure proper targeting of law enforcement resources against serious crime while remembering that the most important line of defense against harmful content is the well-informed and engaged parent or teacher. Earlier this year, the Online Safety Technology Working Group, created by Congress and convened by NTIA, issued a report on the state of the art in child protection strategies online.

So, in setting our agenda, how we approach these topics is just as important as the specific issues we are addressing.  All of these efforts must involve collaboration – among governments, the private sector, civil society, academia and the technical community.  Our approach to answering these questions has been and will continue to be one of engaging key constituencies.   We will be flexible in terms of outcomes, we’re not looking to legislate or regulate, and if our discussions result in individual actors accepting new processes, so much the better.

Every one of these policy areas shares two common characteristics.  First, they are global in scope, raising questions about whether a single government or actor could provide comprehensive solutions if it wanted to.  

And second, they arise in the context of fast-changing technologies, marketplaces, and evolving patterns of social interaction, causing many who study these issues to doubt that traditional government regulatory processes can provide adequate, flexible responses.

Nevertheless, if we are to preserve trust in the Internet, it is not an option for our government to merely sit by and hope that these issues will take care of themselves.  Again, that does not mean we should take a sharp turn away from the current approach to the Internet that the U.S. government has championed over the years.  Rather, we should take a careful look at the unique multi-stakeholder, public-private models that have led to the success of the Internet and the World Wide Web and determine how best to bolster them to meet today’s challenges.

Conclusion

The policy challenges we face are broad.   Just as we work to narrow the gap in broadband Internet access so that all Americans are a part of the 21st Century information economy, all stakeholders must work together to face the social and public challenges of the global Internet environment. 

My colleagues and I at NTIA and the Department of Commerce look forward to working with you in closing the digital divide and addressing the policy challenges that will ensure that the open Internet remains an engine of economic opportunity and growth for all Americans.

Thank you.