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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Victory at the Public Safety Communications Interoperability Summit

June 11, 2002

Current and Emerging Solutions to Public Safety Communications
Interoperability Summit: Creating New Opportunities with Technology
Remarks from Nancy J. Victory
Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information
Administrator, National Telecommunications and Information Administration
Washington, D.C.
Tuesday, June 11, 2002

On behalf of Secretary Evans and President Bush, I want to welcome you to our Public Safety Interoperability Summit. In my capacity as Assistant Secretary of Commerce and the Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, I look forward to benefiting from the important discussions to take place over the next two days. Public safety communications challenges rank among the highest priorities for my team and for me personally. This summit is part of our continuing commitment to ensuring that, in the worst of times, our nation's communications systems provide the best of services.

The public safety community stands on the front line of homeland defense, emergency preparedness and law enforcement. All of you gathered here for this summit - federal and state CIO's, state and local officials, public safety executives and equipment manufacturers - have an important role in protecting and serving our country and our citizens. Your experience, expertise and creativity are the indispensable tools for building a secure, robust and resilient communications network for those who must answer the call in times of crises.

I want to thank the Public Safety Wireless Network ("PSWN") and members of my NTIA staff who have been instrumental in putting this summit together. Your hard work has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated. I am confident that your efforts will yield significant benefits to advancing our common cause.

Those involved in public safety understand that you need to prepare for the worst in order to deliver the best. Interoperability of our public safety networks is key to achieving that goal. Interoperability is nothing less than the linking together of different jurisdictions (federal, state and local) and different functions (fire, medical, disaster assistance and law enforcement) with different types of communications systems and equipment through common communications capabilities. Without interoperability, our public safety community is left with a Tower of Babel in which no one can understand what anyone else is saying or learn what others are doing. We therefore must redouble our efforts to create a workable plan for achieving a fully interoperable future. We must succeed because the price of failure is unacceptable.

In furtherance of public safety interoperability, the following steps are being taken:



  • NTIA will be carefully reviewing the Public Safety Interoperability Summit record and coordinating actions based upon your recommendations with PSWN and the FCC. I also will be communicating any need for legislative actions to Congress as appropriate. We will also be working closely with the new OMB e-gov initiative Project SAFECOM to ensure adequate Federal to Federal Interoperability and Federal to State/local interoperability.
  • NTIA's spectrum research laboratory in Boulder, Colorado - the Institute for Telecommunication Sciences ("ITS") - has been tasked with the development of standards for public safety digital land mobile radio systems. In August, I will be conducting an on site review of this project with my Boulder lab team.
  • NTIA's Public Safety Program Office will be looking at public safety's spectrum needs and working with the FCC to try to address them. NTIA's office also acts as the federal liaison for various public safety groups.
  • NTIA is conducting a broader review of spectrum management processes - an effort started with the first spectrum summit in which NTIA, the FCC and the State Department were joint participants. Public safety needs and considerations will play a prominent role in that ongoing and fresh look at how our country's spectrum is administered.

Before turning to details, let me provide you with a brief background review of NTIA, its responsibilities and its ongoing public safety initiatives.


NTIA's Role in Spectrum Management

Within the United States, spectrum management is bifurcated. The FCC manages the spectrum for the private sector as well as for state and local governments. NTIA is responsible for managing spectrum used by the various Federal government agencies and departments. On a regular basis, NTIA and the FCC work closely together to coordinate spectrum use and policies because a majority of the spectrum is shared between federal government and non-federal government users. More broadly, NTIA advises the President on communications and information policies affecting the nation.

Frequency Management in Times of Emergency

In times of crisis, NTIA has an important role in facilitating use of spectrum and working to ensure network viability. For example, in response to the September 11th terrorist attacks, NTIA operated 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week to process frequency requests by federal agencies for law enforcement, special operations, and search and rescue operations at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. NTIA also processed spectrum assignment requests from the Departments of Defense (DOD), Justice, Treasury, Energy, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the White House Communications Agency, and the American Red Cross. To meet DOD's spectrum needs alone, NTIA expedited coordination on almost 7000 frequency assignments through the use of a unique computer automation process.

NTIA's Role in Ensuring Critical Infrastructure's Viability

One of our missions is to help protect our Nation's critical infrastructure as it pertains to communications and information networks. Public safety is an obvious area of concern, and keeping our essential public services and communication networks operating is very important. At the same time, however, we must maintain our transportation systems, energy sources, and financial networks when national emergencies arise, such as when terrorists strike.

NTIA is the Government's lead agency for ensuring that the critical communications networks within the communications and information sector continue to function in the face of a cyber or physical attack. NTIA is continuing to work with representatives from industry to determine how, where, and in what way safeguards can be strengthened and improved to protect the nation's critical infrastructure.

Just last week, the President presented a bold proposal to restructure the entire federal government to successfully meet the challenges of securing the homeland. It is imperative that the Congress moves decisively to implement the President's plan, but in the meantime, NTIA will continue to work aggressively to ensure the security of our critical communications and information infrastructure.

NTIA's Research and Engineering Laboratory

NTIA also has one of the nation's leading telecommunications research laboratories located in Boulder, Colorado - the Institute for Telecommunication Sciences (ITS). The ITS laboratory is NTIA's chief research and engineering arm. It also serves as a principal federal resource for solving the telecommunications concerns of other federal agencies, state and local governments, and private associations and organizations.

ITS has been directly involved in identifying solutions to the interoperability issue. One of its projects has been the development of standards for public safety digital land mobile radio systems. ITS will be conducting interoperability testing of these systems in the near future.


September 11th Lessons

We all know that September 11th had a profound impact on each and every one of us. We all have personal stories we could share about that day. In my case, the tragedy struck very close indeed as a dear friend and former partner was on American 77 and my home town of Garden City, New York lost almost one hundred members of its community at the World Trade Center. My husband might well have been on American 77 as well but for his pledge to attend our son's soccer game scheduled for that afternoon.

The September 11th attacks demonstrated in a very public way how critically important communications capabilities are for our Nation's first responders. Since then, there has been more attention focused on ensuring that our first responders are equipped to prevent and/or minimize the effects of any future attacks here at home. A good deal of the debate has centered on how to improve the ability of these public servants to communicate with one another.

NTIA'S Plans for Acting Upon Summit Recommendations

As part of that continuing effort, our summit today builds upon the work to date. Your contributions in the form of ideas, suggestions and criticisms will not pass unnoticed. My NTIA staff will be watching and listening carefully to learn from your experience and expertise.

This is not a one shot deal - an exercise of public relations theater. We at NTIA are firmly committed to doing our best to accomplish the best for our country. As we move forward, my door will be open to meet with you and your colleagues in furtherance of our common and critical mission.

NTIA and Public Safety Spectrum Needs

I am pleased to say that since PSWN's inception in 1996, NTIA has been a key partner in its efforts. PSWN works to plan and foster public safety communications interoperability at all levels of government throughout the nation. It also works closely with the public safety community, policy decision-makers, and wireless technology providers to lay a solid foundation for improving wireless communications interoperability.

NTIA provides direct leadership, policy, and technical support to PSWN as another way of promoting the advancement of public safety communications issues. NTIA is an active member of PSWN's Executive Committee, as well as of the various working groups of the organization. Through PSWN, NTIA assists the public safety community by offering technical expertise and public policy guidance.

When PSWN was formed, NTIA and the federal public safety agencies determined that more was needed to improve interoperability at all levels of government - local, state, federal, and tribal. With that goal in mind, NTIA established a Public Safety Program Office to accomplish three main objectives. One objective is to address the long-range spectrum requirements of the federal public safety agencies. A second is to develop a strategy to provide sufficient spectrum for growth in current services, advanced technology, and interoperability. This includes active participation in setting domestic and international interoperability standards for public safety systems. Last, but not least, the Public Safety Program Office provides leadership and acts as a federal liaison for various public safety groups.

Now more than ever, PSWN's vision for seamless, coordinated, and integrated public safety communications needs to become a reality. NTIA will continue to work closely with the FCC, PSWN, and public safety groups to ensure that the interoperability needs of the public safety community are addressed. NTIA remains supportive of federal, state, and local agencies' rights to select the interoperability solutions that best fit their needs. We also support the voluntary adoption of user- and industry-developed technical standards to resolve barriers to interoperability.

NTIA and Spectrum Management Policies

At NTIA, we are looking to the future so that we can effectively, and efficiently, address the future spectrum needs of the public safety community. As many of you may be aware, in early April, NTIA hosted a two-day Spectrum Summit with participation by Chairman Powell and his FCC colleagues. The purpose of the Summit was to explore new and innovative ideas to develop and implement spectrum policy and management approaches that would encourage spectrum efficiency; provide spectrum for new technologies; and improve the effectiveness of the domestic and international spectrum management processes.

Recognizing that improving the national spectrum management process is a multifaceted undertaking that neither government nor the private sector can accomplish alone, I invited a variety of experts in spectrum management from government, industry and academia to share their thoughts in this area. During the first day's meetings, the panel of technologists and futurists discussed at length how new technologies could maximize spectrum use. Several described the future according to software defined radios and "ultrawideband" technology. Some believe that these emerging wireless technologies of the future will share spectrum and essentially make spectrum allocation obsolete.

As a result of the Spectrum Summit, our spectrum team at NTIA is already working to develop solutions to better manage this essential resource. We expect to have more to report on this in the coming weeks. Currently, I am pleased to report that we have developed four basic goals from the lessons learned from the summit. These are:

  • "One Spectrum Team" in which NTIA, the FCC and State Department form a collaborative working relationship in spectrum management for the common good;
  • Spectrum management policies that encourage spectrum efficiency and discourage spectrum waste;
  • Forward-looking policies that enable technological advances and eliminate legacy regulations that impede innovation; and
  • Spectrum policies that ensure the deployment of robust wireless networks that are prepared for the worst of crises and able to deliver the best of services to the public safety community and the American people.

Specific Spectrum Management Challenges

Managing spectrum effectively and efficiently is one of our greatest challenges because of the limited amount of available spectrum, and the continued great demand for spectrum. We are currently facing the pressing challenge of ensuring that spectrum is available for future wireless growth, while providing the infrastructure for future public safety needs. The 700 and 800 MHz bands, as well as the spectrum being assessed for 3rd generation wireless technologies, are the subject of intense debates and continuing uncertainties. The allocation decisions will directly impact spectrum used for public safety. We are moving forward on these issues, and I thought I would give you an update on where we stand.

700 MHz. The Administration, the FCC, and Congress are currently focused on the pending auction of a certain portion of the 700 MHz band, now occupied by analog broadcast television channels 52 through 69, to make way for proposed public safety and commercial wireless services. The Administration has called for postponement of the auction, scheduled for later this month, because of the uncertainty over how and when this band will be cleared.

800 MHz. Efforts are underway to create a capacity-rich and fully functional future for public safety wireless communications at the 800 MHz band. An orderly plan for both public safety and critical infrastructure licensees is a must. The FCC has begun to examine the current 800 MHz band plan, and this is a good starting point. Public safety needs our attention in this area, and the issue of interference needs to be addressed and resolved.

3G. The U.S. needs new spectrum allocations for 3rd generation wireless (3G). The question is where to find the spectrum needed to deploy it. NTIA and the FCC are currently conducting a viability assessment of the 1710-1770 and 2110-2170 MHz bands as a possible home for 3G services. To complicate matters, this band is currently used by critical defense systems, such as precision guided missiles and satellite communications, which cannot be easily relocated. Our assessment will determine if sharing or relocation could occur without disrupting these important government communications, and while ensuring that our national security is not impaired. We hope to conclude this study within the next month.


In conclusion, I want to commend all of you for joining us in the important effort to find and implement solutions to public safety wireless interoperability. We need to hear from you - as you are the ones in the trenches, dealing with this issue every day. I urge you not to sit on the sidelines. You have valuable information to help us successfully address the challenges ahead. Be active, rather than passive, in the decision-making process. Now is your chance to be part of the solution and to help ensure that public safety communications interoperability becomes not just a vision, but also a reality.

Thank you for being here. Thank you for helping us. Thank you for your efforts to protect and serve all Americans.