You are here

Remarks by Commerce Department Director of Digital Economy Alan Davidson at MMTC Broadband and Social Justice Summit

January 21, 2016

Remarks of Alan Davidson

Director of Digital Economy

U.S. Department of Commerce

January 21, 2016

MMTC Broadband and Social Justice Summit

Intergovernmental Leaders Luncheon

Westin Georgetown

Washington, D.C. 

—As Prepared for Delivery—


Good afternoon.  To start, I want to thank MMTC for inviting me to speak today at the 7th annual Broadband and Social Justice Summit.  It’s a pleasure to join this esteemed gathering of public officials and public and private sector thought leaders working to ensure that the abundant opportunities the Internet makes possible are available to all Americans.

And please join me in congratulating MMTC on 30 years of dedicated advocacy for diversity and equal opportunity in the converging broadcast, new media, and telecommunications sectors. You’ve had an incredible impact.

As Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker’s new Director of Digital Economy, I am here to reaffirm that we share MMTC’s goal that our dynamic and evolving economy work for everyone.  Diversity and inclusion are critical to America’s economic success and security. We know that by broadening participation in the digital economy we can foster innovation and improve productivity.

Today, I will talk briefly about the Department’s digital economy agenda and my role as the Director of Digital Economy, along with a few of the biggest challenges we see.  And I hope to enlist your support and participation in a few of our important initiatives. 

Digital Economy Overview

As you in this room well know, we are living through a remarkable economic and societal transformation, driven by technology.  In this transformation, the digital economy will be critical to the future success of the broader American economy.

The digital economy already accounts for over five percent of gross domestic product in the United States, but that number does not capture its true potential.  For example, experts estimate that digitization has the potential to boost annual U.S. GDP up to $2.2 trillion by 2025 through increased labor supply and productivity, improved capital asset efficiency, product development and resource management. This would increase GDP by 6-8 percent above baseline projections.

But we cannot take success for granted.  Global competition is increasing, and new forms of regulation -- such as data localization requirements – threaten to undermine the open and global nature of the digital economy, and its inclusiveness.

That is why the Commerce Department is making technology and Internet policy a top priority.  Less than one year ago, I was brought on as the first Director of Digital Economy, a new position created to coordinate policy across the Department.

Many of you may be familiar with particular parts of Commerce, such as NTIA or NIST. The Department is a far-flung enterprise, with 46,000 employees and twelve bureaus working on trade, patents, standards, Internet policy, and the weather. We generate 20-40 Terabits of data per day. And increasingly we touch on many of the most important issues facing the digital economy.

Last fall, Secretary Pritzker unveiled the Department’s Digital Economy Agenda.  It focuses on four key opportunities, promoting:     

  • a free and open Internet;
  • trust, including privacy and security;
  • access and skills; and
  • innovation.

Let me say a few words about each area.

(1)   First, Promoting the free flow of information worldwide is a top priority. We know the Internet functions best for our businesses and workers when data and services can flow unimpeded across borders.  That means access to new markets for small businesses, and more diverse content that enriches and entertains people around the world. 

With that goal in mind, we are working to promote cross-border data flows and ensure that international rules do not unfairly burden U.S. firms. We are working closely with the EU on issues like the Privacy Safe Harbor and the upcoming EU Digital Single Market initiative. The IANA transition continues to be a major priority this year. And in the area of Internet governance we are focused on the use of the bottom-up, multistakeholder approaches to resolving technical and policy challenges. 

(2)  Our second Departmental focus is promoting trust online. Security and privacy are essential if electronic commerce is to flourish. We are also acutely aware that members of vulnerable communities – such as low-income consumers and seniors – often do not have the resources to protect themselves online and are especially at risk. 

Commerce priorities in this area include:

  • Cybersecurity, expanding the use of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework to help organizations better address security risks.
  • Privacy and lawful access to data, including support for reform of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and for the development of strong encryption standards.
  • Multistakeholder processes around on privacy and transparency for use of unmanned aircraft systems, facial recognition technology, and security vulnerability disclosures.

(3)  A third priority is access and skills. We are working on projects that ensure broadband access for workers, families, and companies, because high-speed networks are essential to economic success in the 21st century. Yet, about a quarter of U.S. households still do not have Internet access at home.  And our workers need to develop new skills in order to share in the prosperity of the modern digital economy.

  • Many of you are familiar with NTIA’s broadband grant program, which has expanded broadband access and adoption in many communities.  Grantees have deployed approximately 115,000 miles of new or upgraded networks, and connected almost 26,000 community anchor institutions. We continue to build on this work with Broadband USA and the government initiatives identified by the President’s Broadband Opportunity Council report.
  • The Department is also exploring skills-building opportunities, such as National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education to build and strengthen a skilled cyber workforce. 

(4)  Our fourth area of focus is promoting innovation, through smart intellectual property rules and support for the next generation of exciting new technologies.

·        The Patent and Trademark Office is working on ways to modernize the U.S. patent system and reduce litigation barriers.  Our Internet Policy Task Force will soon issue a White Paper with recommendations addressing key copyright challenges posed by digital technologies. 

  • More broadly, we are seeking to engage and support promising new technologies and business sectors as the pace of technological change increases. From driverless cars to the Internet of Things, we see value in engaging with industry and stakeholders to promote new technologies and address potential policy concerns early in the development life cycle.  


In closing, I want to underscore that realizing the potential of the digital economy will require an ongoing partnership between the public and private sector.  Today the Internet and broader digital economy are providing economic opportunity and access to information around the world. But as I said before, we cannot take that success for granted.

For the digital economy to realize its full potential, we need to make the case to people around the world that freedom and openness on the Internet is good for them too – that they will be safe and secure when they use it, and that it will work for all of us.

Together we need to build a digital economy in the service of human progress.  To do so we need to build on an important lesson from the past -- that diversity and inclusion strengthen our prosperity.

Thank you again to MMTC for this kind invitation and for your committed fight to make the digital economy work for everyone.