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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Redl at MMTC 2019 Broadband and Social Justice Summit

March 06, 2019

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.
March 6, 2019

-- As Prepared for Delivery --

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here again.

As many of you know, I spoke at this event in 2018, in one of my first addresses as NTIA Administrator. Last year I talked about promoting investments in broadband. I said that one of the best ways to solve the digital divide is to better understand it, and I committed to continuing NTIA’s history of data-driven policymaking.

With that in mind, I have a number of updates on the Administration’s efforts to improve our understanding of broadband availability and connect all communities.

Broadband mapping

First, I’m happy to report that the Department of Commerce and NTIA are back in the mapping business. Congress last year directed NTIA to build on our previous mapping experience and the relationships we’ve made to update the national broadband availability map.

We have since announced that we are collaborating with initial eight states -- California, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia. These states will provide data and other inputs to the map so that policymakers around the country can make better decisions as they devise broadband expansion plans.

We chose these states for a few reasons. First, we wanted to make sure we had geographic diversity. Second, we selected states that participate in NTIA’s State Broadband Leaders Network. This is a group that formed out of NTIA’s last foray into mapping, and is made up of officials from around the country who are working to expand broadband in their communities. Finally, we looked for states that had active state broadband plans or programs.

So we have eight states that are an ideal cross-section of the country, with state and local governments that are committed to the mission of connecting all of their residents. We recently issued a contract for our mapping platform and our current focus is on developing that platform.

The initial map will include available nationwide data for every state combined with state-level data from the eight states, but this is just a first step. We are open to any and all innovative proposals out in the public, and we expect to seek participation from additional states, territories and federally recognized tribes that have broadband programs or related data-collection efforts.

Internet use survey

In addition to our work on the map, we also released a series of reports last year based on our most recent survey of Americans about their computer and Internet use. NTIA has been issuing these surveys on a regular basis since 1994, in partnership with our Commerce colleagues in the Census Bureau.

One of our top-line findings from our November 2017 data collection was that we’re making progress in closing the digital divide, especially among historically disadvantaged groups.

For example, we saw a significant increase in Internet use among Americans living in households with family incomes below $25,000 per year – up from 57 percent in 2015 to 62 percent in 2017.

Internet use among African Americans and Hispanics also continued to climb. For example, 72 percent of Hispanics used the Internet in 2017—up from 66 percent in 2015.

The results also revealed that about three-quarters of Internet-using households had significant concerns about online privacy and security risks. A third of respondents reported that these concerns caused them to refrain from certain online activities. For the Internet to remain a robust economic engine, consumers need to know that their personal information will be protected by the companies that are collecting it.

Privacy

Ensuring that the Internet remains an engine for continued innovation and economic growth is part of NTIA’s core mission. That’s why we’re helping to develop the Administration’s policy toward consumer data privacy.

We want to build consensus around a fundamentally American approach to privacy, one that ensures Americans trust the technologies in their lives, while guarding against the creation of obstacles to innovation that would harm our economy. A model that ensures privacy and prosperity. We believe this is possible.

We’ve been talking with dozens of stakeholders to better understand what the problems are, what we can agree upon, and how we can move forward. NTIA put out a request for comments as well, and received more than 200 responses. We received comments from a range of individuals, industries, companies and organizations, including the MMTC. We’re grateful for the time and energy that these groups put into our process.

NTIA is reviewing the comments to determine next steps, but there have been a few themes to emerge.

First, we heard a sense of urgency, and a desire for American leadership on this issue. Our policies must reflect the changes in the use of data that have transformed consumers’ relationship with technology over the past decade.

Second, there is broad industry consensus that we can’t have a patchwork regulatory landscape within the U.S., and where there are differences internationally, we should take care not to harm the data flows that power the global digital economy.

Finally, we received many thoughtful, constructive comments on our proposed risk-and-outcomes-based approach. Our work on a risk-based approach is being led by NTIA’s sister agency, the National Institute for Standards and Technology, or NIST.

They are known for their Cybersecurity Framework for managing cyber risks, and they’ll be taking the broad outlines of that and applying it to privacy. The result will be a collection of tools that anyone can use to assess and address privacy risks in any regulatory environment.

A risks-and-outcomes focus has another benefit, which is it that it doesn’t entrench large, established businesses at the expense of startups and small firms. If the compliance costs associated with data use are prohibitive for small businesses, we may well lose out on the next generation of innovation, not to mention the jobs and economic benefits that small businesses provide.

American Broadband Initiative

To close, I want to tell you about two initiatives that NTIA is working on that are aiming to bring all of government cooperating around shared technology and connectivity goals.

The first is the recently announced American Broadband Initiative, a comprehensive effort to stimulate increased private sector investment in broadband. The American Broadband Initiative is a reflection of government-wide cooperation toward a shared mission: ensuring that all Americans have access to affordable, high-speed broadband, and all the opportunities that it brings.

The Administration released a Milestones Report this past month, demonstrating the progress that we’ve made under President Trump. The report commitments to improve broadband deployment and use from more than 20 federal agencies.

NTIA has committed, as part of the report, to creating a one-stop shop for federal broadband resources through our BroadbandUSA program. We're working to make it easy for you to find exactly what you're looking for through our BroadbandUSA website, including federal funding guides and overviews of permitting processes.

National Spectrum Strategy

The other initiative that we’re working on involves spectrum policy. In October, the White House released a Presidential Memorandum on spectrum policy that directed the Executive Branch agencies to develop and implement a comprehensive, balanced and forward-looking National Spectrum Strategy, which must be ready by late July of this year.

The goal is to move beyond a narrow focus on piecemeal, band-by-band consideration of spectrum. In crafting a long-term strategy, NTIA is seeking the data and analyses we need to make strategic decisions for our long-term national security, technology leadership, international competitiveness, and economic prosperity.

The American Broadband Initiative and our work to create a National Spectrum Strategy provide an important foundation for the next wave in the technology revolution. As you can see, we are doing everything we can to encourage more private sector investment in fiber, 5G, and other technologies that the panel will discuss today.

As I noted at the outset, every community has an essential stake in this new wave of technological advancement.  I thank MMTC for its commitment to ensuring equitable participation in these emerging opportunities and for inviting me to discuss NTIA's work to achieve that shared goal.