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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Redl at MMTC Broadband and Social Justice Summit

February 06, 2018

Remarks of David J. Redl
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council’s Broadband & Social Justice Summit
Washington, D.C.
February 6, 2018

--As Prepared for Delivery--

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here and speak with MMTC in my new role as NTIA’s Administrator. I’ve been fortunate to work with MMTC over the years in my previous jobs, and am proud to have been honored with your Outstanding Service Award in 2016. So I’d just like to take a moment at the outset to recognize MMTC and its leadership in advocating for civil rights in communications.

I’m glad to see that the agenda for today’s summit reflects some of the big-picture issues that we’re also thinking about at NTIA, like the future of work in the digital age, intellectual property protections and artificial intelligence. Today I’m going to talk about what NTIA and the Administration are doing to help promote investment in broadband and ensure that all Americans have access to the connectivity they need to meaningfully participate in the modern economy.

This Administration understands that too many Americans still lack access to reliable, affordable broadband Internet service. This is a problem that’s felt particularly in rural America, as well as some urban areas that have been left behind.  At NTIA, it remains our mission to help communities gain access to technology that can improve health and education, promote economic development, and unleash American innovation.

We know one of the best ways to solve the digital divide is to better understand it. NTIA has been a leader in collecting and analyzing broadband adoption data, and using that data to develop policy. This will continue during my tenure.

Since 1994, NTIA has worked with the Census Bureau to survey Americans about their computer and Internet use. The most recent survey in this series was conducted this past November, and in the spring we intend to release the data as well as a series of analyses under our “Digital Nation” banner. The survey has changed significantly since the 90s, reflecting the evolving use of the Internet and the devices people use to go online.

This time around, we have new questions about online activity that will help us learn about how Americans are engaging in the sharing economy and publishing their own content. We also changed our questions around which technologies people use to access the Internet, in hopes that we can fully capture how people think about and use their mobile broadband service. We’re excited to see the results and share them with you. In the meantime, I would encourage you to visit NTIA’s website, which provides historical data and analyses, along with Data Explorer, which is as an easy-to-use tool for finding broadband adoption information by selected demographics.

We know from our previous data that when we say “digital divide,” we’re talking about longstanding disparities in Internet use based on race and ethnicity, among other demographic gaps. To help bridge that divide, NTIA is partnering with the Commerce Department’s Office of Civil Rights and North Carolina Central University to promote collaboration among the CIOs of North Carolina’s 11 historically Black Colleges and Universities. Anchor institutions, such as schools and libraries, can play a key role as both customers of high-speed service and a potential avenue for extending service to other users. Through our collaboration, we will seek to enhance broadband on the campuses of these HBCUs, as well as in the surrounding communities, with the ultimate goal of advancing local economic development.

NTIA facilitates monthly meetings for the CIOs to share best practices for improving campus broadband access and to support each other’s broadband expansion and digital literacy training in the community. The Commerce Department expects this project will yield a replicable model for enhancing broadband at other minority-serving institutions of higher learning.

NTIA is also home to the BroadbandUSA program. This team of experts supports community leaders by identifying available resources and providing them with technical assistance. NTIA has helped more than 200 communities work with broadband providers and develop public-private partnerships to meet their connectivity needs and digital inclusion goals.

BroadbandUSA also offers monthly webinars that cover various broadband-related topics, and it holds workshops across the country.  Next month, we are partnering with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development on a summit that will explore how public-private partnerships can improve broadband deployment, enhance digital skills, and stimulate innovation and economic development.

In addition, we’re promoting smart communities through the Global Cities Team Challenge, which is run by NTIA’s sister agency, NIST. BroadbandUSA is the co-lead on two teams in the Challenge, focusing on public Wi-Fi and smart agriculture. These teams work on innovative projects and create blueprints for communities nationwide.

As we consider the future of broadband in the United States, we must address the powerful role that wireless technology plays – a role that will only grow as industry deploys 5G nationwide. NTIA plays a key role in pushing America's 5G leadership forward, and we are working to maximize the country’s spectrum resources by identifying and studying spectrum bands that could be made available for commercial uses. We're also supporting efforts here and abroad to harmonize spectrum and set technology standards. And we're working with industry to help remove obstacles to deploying the network infrastructure that's needed for 5G to flourish.

On this front, I’d like to congratulate the MMTC for its work on the Wireless Infrastructure Apprenticeship Access Initiative. This initiative is helping to close the skills gap by ensuring that trained professionals are available to install the fiber-optic cabling that will support the growth of 5G networks. Wired connections will be essential for 5G’s success, as hundreds of thousands of small cells will need to be installed across the country.

We must do everything we can to encourage infrastructure development.

We should look at how federal action might address the patchwork of permitting, siting and other regulatory provisions, in order to potentially streamline or eliminate any rules that pose unnecessary barriers to deployment. This would apply to the build-out of backhaul connections as well as the infrastructure where small cells would be installed, such as poles, streetlights, rooftops and other structures.

And it's important to remember that the federal government is the single largest landowner in the country, and it can boost deployment immensely by actively reducing barriers to deployment on public lands and in government-owned buildings. Earlier this year, the President issued an Executive Order and Presidential Memorandum on this topic, and we intend to continue making progress in this area.

As we work to make the Internet available to everyone, we also must make it more secure and resilient.

Cybersecurity has been a key priority of this Administration. Last May, the President issued an Executive Order on Strengthening the Cybersecurity of Federal Networks and Critical Infrastructure. The Order called for promoting stakeholder action against botnets and other automated, distributed threats. Botnet attacks can have large and damaging effects, and they put the broader Internet at risk. The risks are only going to increase as connected devices continue to flourish.

This past month, the Departments of Commerce and Homeland Security issued a draft report on possible actions to reduce the threat of botnets. The report outlines a positive vision for the future, cemented by six principal themes and five complementary goals that would improve the resilience of the Internet ecosystem. For each goal, the report suggests supporting actions for both government and private sector actors.

NTIA is now seeking input from stakeholders before finalizing its recommendations in a report for the President this spring. MMTC and its constituents may have particularly useful suggestions for ways to increase awareness and education for consumers and small businesses about effectively responding to botnets.  Increasingly complex home and small business networks underscore the importance of tools for users without security expertise to protect their homes and businesses from unwitting participation in a cyber-attack.  In addition, the reality of cyber threats points to the need for a well-trained workforce to assist home and small business identify cyber-threats and secure their networks. MMTC may want to consider an apprenticeship program to train the next generation of cyber-warriors – we are certainly going to need many more people with these skills in the years to come.

I’m excited about the opportunity we have in front of us, and the goals we share -- connecting every community to broadband and ensuring that our workforce has the skills to maintain our global competitiveness.  I invite you to work with NTIA in any way you can to make our goals a reality. Thank you.