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Looking to 2019: U.S. Leadership in 5G; Securing our Digital Infrastructure

December 12, 2018

Since taking office, the Trump Administration has made it clear that America will lead the world in building secure 5G commercial wireless services, said David Redl, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information. In an interview with wireless consultant Christopher Guttmann-McCabe at a PLI/FCBA conference, Redl talked about NTIA’s recent efforts and future plans to deliver on the administration’s priorities in the new year.

Q: You recently had a big win at the International Telecommunication Union Plenipotentiary conference with the election of Doreen Bogdan-Martin to Director of the Development Bureau. Why was that important?

A: Doreen’s win is a big deal for us. Not just because she’s the first woman, not just because she’s an American, but because connecting the world is something we are all very passionate about and it’s something that Doreen has spent the last 25 years of her career working on in Geneva. We were optimistic, but no one expected that the United States would win. In fact, the ITU, whose official language is French, had to scramble to make a new sign, “Directrice” instead of “Directeur.” But we had the best candidate. She’s passionate about ensuring that the entire world is brought into the communications ecosystem in a way that makes them real partners.

Q: Can you give us a readout on the Plenipot?

A: We’re really happy with the outcome. We have been long-time proponents of a bottom up, multistakeholder process to govern the Internet, and we were able to reach agreement to counter an effort to have the ITU take a much more active role in Internet governance.

Q: How are preparations coming for the 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference?

A: We’re at the cusp of some very exciting developments on 5G and wireless issues. The real test is to see how things go at a preparatory meeting in February. Bottom line, there’s lot of work to do between now and October, but we usually end up, as a country, with very good proposals.

Q: You recently sent a letter to federal agencies about future spectrum needs and usage. What do you expect to find?

A: We expect we are going to get a wide variety of responses. One of the biggest challenges we face as an agency is a dual mandate from Congress. My job is to protect our government incumbents to make sure they have the assets they need, and to respond to Congress’s mandate to make more spectrum available for the private sector.  By getting some good data on a longer timeline, we’re hopeful we can do some planning for the longer term, and build a framework that can survive well beyond this administration.

Q: Are federal agencies becoming more comfortable with identifying their needs?

A: Over the years we’ve seen a number of changes in the ways that the agencies handle interactions with the private sector, as well as changes in the way that the law treats federal spectrum users. We learned some lessons in the AWS-1 auctions, and Congress made some changes to the law so federal agencies didn’t have to spend money up front and recoup it later for their relocation process. This has made it easier for agencies to participate, and I think that has built a lot of trust between federal users and non-federal users.

I’m also really excited about the work our Institute of Telecommunication Sciences is doing with Dynamic Protection Areas. We’ve been working with the FCC in the 3.5 GHz spectrum band on using environmental sensing capabilities -- essentially listening stations – that detect whether it’s possible to make spectrum dynamically available. This is not a trivial matter. Navy radars operate in this band. Making sure that we have systems in place that allow two systems to coexist will allow us to better maximize the use of that particular spectrum.

Q: What other efforts do you have in the pipeline for spectrum?

A:  We are trying to make more shared spectrum available. We could end up with a very large chunk of spectrum in the mid-band, which is the sweet spot for both coverage and capacity to come meet our 5G needs. The President has made it very clear that he expects us to be leaders in 5G and secure 5G, not just getting equipment out there but equipment that we know meets our national needs in terms of protecting Americans’ data. The work on the mid-band is particularly critical.

Q: Have you been able to participate in the privacy proceedings? Is there a product coming out of this?

A: Yes, I’ve been able to participate in some of the meetings but Deputy Assistant Secretary Diane Rinaldo has been leading this effort. We got a lot of robust comments. We’re trolling through them now to make sure we glean everything we can so we can report to the White House as they develop the administration’s path forward. A couple of themes have emerged. The vast majority of commenters have asked us to look at a federal law in this space. Industry has been very clear they’d like to see preemption, and most of the commenters embraced the user-centric outcomes that we had put in there. Our job is to try and figure out what America’s approach to privacy will be going forward, and what steps are necessary to achieve the goals we set out. We’re really excited about continuing to coordinate with our colleagues at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is working on a risk assessment framework for privacy.

[This interview is condensed from the original transcript.]