Remarks by Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Georgetown University Center for Business and Policy
“The National Broadband Plan: Looking Backward, Reaching Forward”
March 18, 2015
--As Prepared for Delivery--
I want to thank Blair Levin and John Mayo for inviting me to share in this five-year anniversary event. This is a good time to review the accomplishments of the FCC and the Administration pursuant to the National Broadband Plan. The release of the plan in 2010 was an important milestone in our nation’s efforts to promote the deployment and adoption of broadband in the United States by outlining concrete recommendations to the FCC and the Administration to expand broadband access and adoption.
Today, as the Conference title directs, I would like to provide a quick look back at how NTIA has measured up against those Plan recommendations directed to us and to reach forward to let you know what we are continuing to work on as recommended by the Plan. Over the past five years, we have made great strides, but we know that there is still more work to be done.
The National Broadband Plan deserves a lot of credit for focusing the nation’s attention on the promise of wireless broadband and the need to find more spectrum to support the millions of smartphones now in use today. Following the issuance of the plan, President Obama set a goal to make 500 megahertz of spectrum available for mobile and fixed wireless broadband by 2020.
Since 2010, NTIA has identified several bands that could be repurposed for shared or exclusive use by nonfederal users. To date, NTIA has formally recommended or otherwise identified 335 megahertz of spectrum allocated to federal agencies for potential reallocation.
The importance of this reallocation is demonstrated by the results of the recent AWS-3 auction, which generated nearly $45 billion in gross bids by the time it ended in January, for spectrum that had been assigned to federal agency uses.
Since the issuance of the NBP, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology has done an in-depth study on the future of spectrum use. The study concludes that the future spectrum needs of consumers and federal agencies can only be met by the sharing of spectrum between government and commercial interests. As we continue to review spectrum bands for reallocation, spectrum sharing is becoming the new reality. Out of necessity, where it costs too much and takes too long to relocate federal systems, we have to move beyond the traditional approach of clearing federal users from spectrum in order to auction it to the private sector for its exclusive use.
Looking ahead, NTIA will continue to work with federal agencies and the FCC to identify additional bands to be made available to or shared with commercial users. In 2015, we will continue exploring spectrum-sharing opportunities in several bands already in the pipeline. For example, we are evaluating the feasibility of increased sharing for unlicensed devices in the 5 GHz band and working with the FCC and federal agencies to enable innovative spectrum sharing approaches in the 3.5 GHz band.
To achieve spectrum sharing, there are number of tasks set forth in the broadband plan that we have undertaken. Specifically, there needs to be greater ability to measure spectrum use. Last year, NTIA unveiled a new online tool at Spectrum.gov to provide more transparency into how the federal government uses spectrum. NTIA is also overseeing an assessment by federal agencies to quantify their use of spectrum in nearly 1000 megahertz of spectrum, spanning several key bands. We have combined our Boulder, Colorado research and testing capabilities with those of our sister bureau, NIST, to serve both federal agencies and industry as they work to understand and solve the specific challenges of sharing spectrum between federal systems and commercial services.
Even before the broadband plan was released in 2010, NTIA was already hard at work to increase access to broadband capabilities, thanks to the funding included in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Under the Recovery Act, NTIA designed and administered a $4 billion grant program to expand broadband access and adoption to unserved and underserved areas in the United States. Our broadband grant program has made great strides in expanding access to high-speed Internet access and in promoting broadband adoption and digital literacy.
To date, our broadband grantees have deployed more than 113,000 miles of new or upgraded network miles, connected more than 25,000 community anchor institutions and installed or upgraded more than 47,000 personal computers in public access centers. Our grantees have enrolled hundreds of thousands of people as subscribers to broadband services.
As the broadband plan recognized, digital literacy education plays an important role in encouraging household members to sign up for broadband service at home. The plan recommended the creation of an online portal for digital literacy; we created that portal in 2011 available at digitalliteracy.gov. In 2013, in line with the plan’s call to create a national broadband clearinghouse of best practices, we released our broadband adoption toolkit to provide communities and charitable institutions with a step-by-step guide to develop and deliver their own successful adoption programs.
Looking forward, earlier this year, we formally launched our BroadbandUSA initiative. This program will provide technical advice and guidance to communities working to grow their broadband capacity and use. BroadbandUSA will promote broadband deployment and adoption by using everything from toolkits and training programs, to webinars and workshops, to provide technical assistance, funding leads and basic guidance to communities as they work to expand their broadband capacity and adoption. We will also coordinate among federal agencies to promote broadband deployment and adoption.
The President is calling for the federal government to remove all unnecessary regulatory and policy barriers to broadband build-out and competition, and is establishing a new Broadband Opportunity Council of over a dozen government agencies with the singular goal of speeding up broadband deployment and promoting adoption for our citizens. The Council will also solicit public comment on unnecessary regulatory barriers and opportunities to promote greater coordination with the aim of addressing those within its scope.
The broadband plan reinforced the importance of local and regional capacity building, something we had initiated after the Recovery Act provided $350 million to implement what became the State Broadband Initiative. SBI has helped every state and territory develop efficient and creative uses of broadband technology to better compete in the digital economy. They also helped collect data used in the National Broadband Map, which details where broadband is available, who is providing it and what types of services they offer.
The broadband plan stressed the importance of conducting a third-party assessment of how well these federal broadband programs have performed. NTIA in 2010 hired ASR Analytics to conduct an independent analysis of the social and economic impacts of the $4 billion in Recovery Act grants awarded under our broadband grant program. In recent months, we have released ASR’s case studies and reports. What they found is that our broadband grant programs have resulted in billions of dollars in economic benefits to the communities they served, including increased economic output and higher levels of employment.
The September 11 terrorist attacks exposed major problems in the nation’s public safety communications infrastructure. Echoing calls from the 9-11 Commission and many others, the broadband plan called on federal officials to create a nationwide broadband network for public safety.
As part of the 2012 Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, Congress created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), an independent entity within NTIA tasked with developing, operating and maintaining a nationwide public safety broadband network. With support from NTIA, FirstNet has made considerable progress in its efforts to develop this network as set out in its Strategic Program Roadmap. In the next year, FirstNet plans to finalize its policies and rules for the network; complete the initial state consultations with all 56 states and territories; and to initiate the process to procure the network.
And finally, the broadband plan highlighted the need to fully implement next-generation 911 services. NTIA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are responsible for implementing a Next Generation 911 grant program to provide funding for states and territories to upgrade their 911 systems. NTIA and NHTSA will begin working on activities related to this grant program when the funding from the auction is made available to the agencies.
So as you can see, we have been busy working on issues that will help support many of the goals that were outlined in the broadband plan. And while we have accomplished much, there is much work left to do. We look forward to working with many of you on advancing these important priorities.
Thank you for listening.