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Remarks by Deputy Assistant Secretary Gomez at the PLI/FCBA Telecommunications Policy & Regulation Institute

December 14, 2012

Anna M. Gomez
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information
PLI/FCBA Telecommunications Policy & Regulation Institute
Washington, D.C.
December 14, 2012

-As prepared for delivery-

Thank you to the folks at the Practicing Law Institute and FCBA for inviting me to speak to you today.  I particularly want to express my appreciation for all you who have come during the earliest time slot the morning after the Chairman’s dinner!

I wanted to take this opportunity to share the work that we, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, have been doing this past year and to look ahead to what we have on our plate for 2013.

Our work has typically fallen into three main categories: spectrum, broadband, and Internet policy.  I’ll talk about each of these, but I’ll also talk about public safety – a significantly enhanced area in 2012 for NTIA.

In 2012, we’ve been hard at work on efforts:

  • to preserve the multistakeholder model  for addressing Internet policy and governance issues;
  • to deliver high-capacity broadband service to Americans in the far reaches of our country;
  • to free up additional spectrum for commercial wireless broadband services;
  • to protect consumers’ privacy in the digital era; and
  • to assist FirstNet in its efforts to establish a nationwide, wireless public safety broadband network.

Our work is far from done, and we’ll continue with these efforts in 2013 and beyond.  So let me begin by talking about NTIA’s efforts to promote privacy in the new digital economy. 

The White House earlier this year released a comprehensive blueprint to safeguard consumers’ privacy protections in the information age, and it tasked NTIA with convening interested stakeholders – including companies, privacy advocates, consumer groups and others – to implement that blueprint.

Our first step was to solicit input from interested parties on what should be the first topic for the privacy multistakeholder process.  Based on that input, we decided to begin with the issue of transparency in how mobile applications handle consumer data. We convened our first multistakeholder session in July, and have held a number of meetings since then with interested parties to work through these complex issues.

We are pleased that stakeholders have made substantial progress toward a code of conduct for mobile application transparency, and we’re optimistic that the end result will be an agreement that improves consumers’ privacy protections.

When codes of conduct are developed and implemented, consumers will have clearer protections and businesses will have greater certainty.  And in the end, maintaining consumer trust in the Internet will help ensure that it remains an engine for American innovation and economic growth.

There is more work to be done, but stakeholders are generally working together constructively toward a code of conduct.

In 2013, we expect to begin additional multistakeholder processes to apply the Administration’s comprehensive privacy blueprint in other business contexts.  And we will continue working with Congress to enact baseline privacy rights through legislation.

The Obama Administration is committed to preserving the Internet as a vibrant and growing tool for economic development and social expression, and we will continue to work toward that goal through 2013.

NTIA is also at the forefront of the Obama Administration’s push to establish the broadband foundation needed to support the innovation economy of the future – one that produces new and better jobs and one that positions the United States to remain competitive in the 21st Century.

We are also working to ensure that all Americans have the resources and skills to fully share in the civic, social, and economic opportunities made possible by the Internet.

Key to this effort is our Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, or BTOP. The program is investing nearly $4 billion in roughly 230 projects to expand broadband access and adoption across the country.

As of the end of June, our BTOP projects had:

  • deployed or upgraded 72,000 miles of broadband infrastructure;
  • connected more than 10,000 community anchor institutions to high-speed broadband Internet service;
  • entered into over 500 interconnection agreements with third-party providers to leverage or interconnect with their networks;
  • installed more than 36,000 workstations in public computer centers; and
  • generated approximately 380,000 new broadband Internet subscribers.

We are vigorously overseeing all of the BTOP projects to ensure they are completed on time and on budget, and that they deliver the promised benefits to the communities they serve.  In 2013, we will continue our oversight role over these projects. 

Another of our key focuses continues to be our management of the federal government’s use of spectrum, as we work with the federal agencies and the FCC to free up additional spectrum for commercial wireless broadband services while protecting and preserving important, mission-critical capabilities. 

It has been a very busy year for NTIA and federal spectrum managers, and 2013 will prove to be equally, if not more, eventful. 

America’s future competitiveness and global technology leadership depend on the availability of spectrum – the lifeblood of smartphones, tablets and other wireless communication devices.  That’s why President Obama set a bold goal of nearly doubling the amount of spectrum available for fixed wireless broadband services by the end of this decade. 

Our challenge is clear: How do we make the most use of America’s finite spectrum resources? And how do we fuel the mobile economy while protecting the vital federal operations that also rely on spectrum?

One way NTIA is addressing these tough challenges is by exploring innovative approaches that would allow federal and non-federal users to share the same swaths of spectrum. 

We have little choice. The old method of clearing spectrum of federal users and then making it available for the exclusive use of commercial providers – while still possible and preferred in some cases – is not sustainable over the long run. 

So this year, we have taken great strides down this new path on which federal and non-federal stakeholders are working side-by-side to creatively solve complicated and crucial spectrum access problems. 

We have also been busy implementing the key spectrum and FirstNet provisions from the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which President Obama signed into law in February.

To date, NTIA has identified 210 megahertz of federal spectrum for potential commercial use on a shared basis.  Adding to the 115 megahertz from the 1695-1710 MHz band and the 3.5 GHz band from our October 2010 “Fast-Track” report, in March of this year, NTIA issued a report evaluating 95 megahertz of prime spectrum in the 1755-1850 MHz band for potential commercial broadband use. 

In the 3.5 GHz band, just this week the FCC began a proceeding to allocate this additional 100 megahertz of spectrum for broadband services, while recognizing and respecting the critical missions performed by federal agencies in the band. 

We were delighted that the FCC proposed the implementation of a new vision of wireless spectrum access, a vision that embraces the dynamic sharing of spectrum between federal agencies and the commercial sector, driven by new and innovative technologies and regulatory approaches.  For the 1755-1850 MHz band, our March report identified several fundamental challenges that could only be addressed through collaborative efforts between federal and non-federal stakeholders.

In May, NTIA’s Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee (or “CSMAC”) established a number of working groups made up of experts and representatives from industry and federal agencies to assess and recommend practical frameworks for the development of relocation options, transition plans, and sharing arrangements for that band.

Finally, one of the most significant events this year was the enactment of the Tax Relief Act.  

In addition to granting the FCC authority to hold incentive auctions, the new law provides additional incentives and financial support to federal users from the Spectrum Relocation Fund, which Congress established in the 2004 Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act (or “CSEA”). 

My recap of the year wouldn’t be complete without talking about FirstNet. 

Congress in February passed legislation that established FirstNet, an independent authority within NTIA charged with establishing a nationwide wireless broadband network that will enable police, firefighters, emergency services personnel, and others in public safety to better communicate with one another during emergencies and to use new technology to improve response time, keep communities safe, and save lives.

The Secretary of Commerce named the 15-person FirstNet Board in August, and since that time we have been hard at work assisting FirstNet with administrative and consultative duties.  

As part of the law creating FirstNet, Congress also provided $135 million for a new State and Local Implementation Grant Program to support State, regional, tribal, and local jurisdictions’ planning work with FirstNet to ensure the network meets their wireless public safety communications needs.  We expect to issue grant requirements early next year.

So that’s my recap. 

I want to thank you again for this opportunity to share the work that NTIA is doing on all of these compelling issues that will help shape the telecommunications and Internet landscape for the years to come.

Now as many of you know, Larry and I often like to team up when we speak at FCBA functions, often accompanied by Tom Power and Angie Simpson.  To keep the tradition going with the FCBA, and expand it to PLI, I would like to cede the remainder of my time to Secretary Strickling.