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Remarks of Acting Assistant Secretary Rinaldo at the SHLB Coalition's Annual Conference

October 18, 2019

Remarks of Diane Rinaldo
Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
SHLB Coalition Annual Conference
Arlington, Virginia
October 18, 2019

-- As Prepared for Delivery --

Thank you. I’m very excited to be here to share NTIA’s support for connecting anchor institutions around the country.

This is an issue that’s very close to my heart. My first job in D.C. was working for Sen. Olympia Snowe, who was instrumental, as you all likely know, in establishing the E-rate program.

We’ve certainly come a long way since the 1990s, and have had great success ensuring that our anchor institutions are connected. But we can’t rest on our laurels. As technology continues to change and advance, we must ensure that our schools, libraries and health institutions can keep pace.

At NTIA, we know that the first step to making good decisions is having good data. That’s why we were excited when Congress directed NTIA to build on our previous experience and update the national broadband availability map. Better broadband availability data will allow policymakers across the country to create more accurate and more effective broadband plans and programs.

Earlier this month, we launched a pilot version of the map in concert with an initial eight states -- California, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia. We’re excited about the platform we’ve created. The new National Broadband Availability Map is a geographic information system that allows for the comparison of federal, state, and commercially available data sets.

It will help identify regions with insufficient service, compare multiple data-sets to identify discrepancies in broadband availability, and produce reports and analyses that can be used for broadband policy, planning, and investment decision-making. Unfortunately for everyone who loves to tinker around with online maps, right now it is only accessible by state and federal partners. Using this model allows us to include non-public data that may be proprietary or have licensing restrictions. Our goal is to get the best data and the best tools in the hands of those decision-makers who need it most.

As the pilot moves forward, NTIA will test and refine the map’s functionality and expand it to other states, and add data from additional partners.

NTIA is also home to extensive data and research on how Americans use the Internet and related technologies. Since 1994, NTIA has regularly commissioned the U.S. Census Bureau to conduct surveys on Internet use. Our most recent data collection was in 2017. You can visit our website, at NTIA.gov/Data, to see all of our results and analysis.

Among the most interesting findings from our 2017 data collection was on Internet use among school-age children. We found that the proportion of school-aged children living in homes with no Internet services dropped from 19 percent in 2015 to 14 percent in 2017. That’s terrific progress.

Still, that means there are still somewhere around 7 million school-age children that don’t have Internet at home. Most of these children aren’t using the Internet outside of the home either -- just 16 percent went online while at school, and only 5 percent used the Internet from a library or community center. Those are significantly lower rates than children who already have Internet at home.

There’s much more on our website, and we’re looking forward to putting our next survey into the field next month. As always, we welcome feedback on our survey if you have suggestions for future survey questions or research. This is your data, we want it to be as useful and informative as possible.

Of course, all the data and analysis we produce are meant to inform public policy. To that end, we’re also helping to lead a range of actions to increase broadband access under the umbrella of the American Broadband Initiative.

Earlier this year, the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture released a Milestones Report that detailed past and future federal actions to expand broadband. The report is divided into three major workstreams: streamlining federal permitting, leveraging federal assets, and maximizing federal funding. I want to briefly give an update on the progress we’re making.

First, on federal permitting and leveraging federal assets, our goal is to make government processes clear, transparent, and responsive to stakeholders.

The Federal Government owns or manages almost a third of the land in the United States. The General Services Administration owns or leases more than 8,300 assets in more than 8,000 cities and towns nationwide. By minimizing permitting delays and paperwork, and making clear who the right federal point of contact is, providers can focus on building networks more quickly and with less red tape.

As part of this effort, GSA has worked to revise the SF299 form and get commitments from all land-management agencies to use the form. The end goal is a single application form that providers will use with multiple federal agencies to obtain permits to locate broadband infrastructure on federal lands.

For the federal funding workstream, we were able to identify more than 40 federal programs that can support the development and expansion of broadband access. We’ve put all of the relevant information about these programs on NTIA’s BroadbandUSA website, which is now a one-stop shop for federal permitting and funding information.

I’d like to take a moment to recognize our wonderful BroadbandUSA team.

This is a program that started in 2015 as communities around the country were asking for help with their broadband expansion plans. BroadbandUSA works with public and private sector partners to assess local broadband needs and gaps; identify possible funding mechanisms and other resources; and plan network infrastructure projects.

BroadbandUSA also convenes workshops, monthly webinars and virtual meetings to educate stakeholders, including community anchor institutions, with information that can improve broadband planning and partnerships.

October’s webinar covered broadband’s role in revitalizing small communities, focusing on the use of creative partnerships with local businesses, health organizations and schools to solve broadband challenges. Please visit our BroadbandUSA website to see all of our past webinars and sign up for the November webinar focused on building a digitally skilled workforce at the local level.

We are also collaborating with USDA to offer a series of workshops to inform local broadband stakeholders about digital applications, broadband solutions, and federal and state grant and loan programs. Workshops are planned in Mississippi this month and New Mexico in November.

I want to close by talking about a few exciting developments in wireless technology.

First, I was honored last month to help kick off initial commercial deployments in the 3.5GHz band, what’s known as the Citizens Broadband Radio Service.

If you’re not familiar, the CBRS, as it’s known, involves a giant leap forward in spectrum sharing technology. If it’s successful, it will be the first time ever that spectrum will be shared dynamically between government and commercial users, with real-time decisions being made about interference protection and who can use the band.

This is an exciting, critical achievement in putting more mid-band spectrum to use. It is a culmination of years of hard, collaborative work with our partners at the FCC, the Department of Defense, and the private sector.

It is also a launching pad for innovative commercial uses. This is a band that’s well suited for providing secure, high-speed LTE service in schools, libraries and hospitals. We are eager to see how this spectrum is put into action, including the announced future support of 5G.

5G is, of course, the immediate and foreseeable future of wireless.

Everyone here with a smartphone understands the benefits we’ve seen from 4G. But beyond high-speed Internet on your phone, America’s leadership in 4G also helped create hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs and led to a booming, worldwide market for American hardware and software.

The promise of 5G is even more exciting. 5G will greatly expand the capabilities of wireless networks, allowing for powerful broadband applications and nearly universal connectivity of people and machines. It will open the door for advanced Internet of Things and Smart Cities applications, faster and more reliable health care and public safety services, and increased productivity in almost every industry.

But the truth is, no one can predict all that 5G will unleash. That’s why it’s so important that we get our anchor institutions involved and connected as early as possible in our nationwide deployments.

There have been some early signals of interest from industry on that front. Verizon, for example, has launched an initiative to provide 5G access to 100 Title 1 schools across the country, and their 5G EdTech Challenge identified a number of innovative ideas for how 5G can transform education for middle school students.

I mentioned earlier that the digital divide among schoolchildren has narrowed in recent years. We’re seeing the same thing with the population at large.

I know there are still many communities around the country that don’t have the connectivity we need, but I think it’s worth taking stock of all the progress we’ve made. The work of organizations like SHLB, and the power of our community anchor institutions are a big reason why.

I want to thank you all for your support of NTIA and our shared missions. I hope we can continue our close relationship in the years to come.

I’m thrilled to be joined onstage now by two outstanding members of NTIA’s staff – Rafi Goldberg, who leads our Internet Use Survey research, and Jennifer Duane, who is a driving force behind so much of the American Broadband Initiative and BroadbandUSA activities I’ve laid out today. We’re eager to answer any questions you may have.

Thank you.