David J. Redl, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, returned today to the House communications and technology subcommittee where he was chief counsel before his confirmation and responded to lawmakers’ questions on a range of issues from spectrum allocation and the deployment of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) system to NTIA’s role in Internet governance and the collection of accurate and granular broadband data for use in policy-making decisions.
The questions from both sides of the aisle, while often probing, were seldom critical, and the subcommittee and committee chairs both spoke of the importance of ensuring that NTIA has the tools and funding it needs to carry out its multiple missions.
In her opening statement, communications subcommittee Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) noted NTIA’s role in spectrum allocation and coordination of next-generation 911 (NG-911) technology deployment, including ensuring that NG-911 funding “is used efficiently.
“And while we’re on the topic of funding, let’s not lose sight of why we’re here. As your oversight authority, it is our duty here in Congress to make sure you have the tools you need to succeed. It is no doubt that we have loaded up your plate with important priorities — but as we look to the fiscal year 2019 budget, we seek to get a better sense of what you need to get the job done,” she added.
Under the Trump administration’s proposed fiscal year 2019 budget released last month, NTIA would get $33.6 million for FY 2019, up from $31.8 million on an annualized basis for FY 2018 (TR Daily, Feb. 12). The budget calls for 143 employees, the same as FY 2018.
Subcommittee Vice Chairman Leonard Lance (R., N.J.) said that “in the global race to 5G, it’s critical we ensure government is using spectrum efficiently” and making spectrum available for commercial purposes, which, he noted, is the aim of the AIRWAVES Act (HR 4953) that he introduced with subcommittee ranking minority member Mike Doyle (D., Pa.).
In his own opening statement. Rep. Doyle emphasized the importance of balancing needs for licensed and unlicensed spectrum. He praised NTIA’s work in the areas of cybersecurity, privacy, and the Internet of things (IoT) and said that he expects NTIA to continue to represent U.S. interests on Internet governance issues at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). In 2016, NTIA relinquished its oversight of ICANN’s performance of its Internet Assigned Names Authority (IANA) functions to the Internet stakeholder community.
Full Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R., Ore.) emphasized that as the committee works on ways to encourage broadband deployment, “we first need to know which areas are truly unserved, so those areas are prioritized first. Mapping efforts have in the past been undertaken by NTIA, but responsibility shifted to the FCC in 2014 when the funding lapsed. While we appreciate the FCC’s efforts to improve the Form-477 data, we need a better funded NTIA to be able to aggregate that information with the data from multiple outlets across the states and with other innovative ideas that are popping up to harness deployment coverage that may not get submitted in a carrier’s compliance with the FCC process.”
Chairman Walden also noted NTIA’s role in overseeing FirstNet.
“Finally, this agency plays an important role in assessing policy challenges across a gamut of issues. From spectrum allocation to public safety, NTIA has a full plate. As we continue our oversight of the agency, we should consider how its role should evolve given its prominence in communications and information policy. Given the role NTIA plays in driving the American economy, it is vital that the agency has the tools it needs to establish an environment that fosters competition and innovation,” he said.
Full committee ranking minority member Frank Pallone Jr. (D., N.J.) said that “the Trump FCC is simply refusing to do its job” with respect to net neutrality, privacy, cybersecurity, and public safety. He said he hoped to hear how NTIA could “fill the tremendous void left by the FCC. I know that Administrator Redl has a deep understanding of these issues. And I hope he also understands that his agency must now step up to improve and secure our communications networks for the future.”
“I am particularly interested in hearing how NTIA will handle cybersecurity as we move to more robust next-generation wireless networks and the internet of things. The Administration itself has pointed out how vulnerable our wireless networks will be if the government does not do more to protect them. NTIA has an important role in figuring out how to make sure they are secure,” Rep. Pallone added.
He also said that it is “critical” that NTIA be the agency that distributes $40 billion in funding that would be authorized by the LIFT America Act, a legislative proposal developed by the panel's Democrats.
“The FCC already manages the Universal Service Fund, which operates independently from any appropriations. Changing that now by co-mingling USF with appropriated funds would be a mistake and would risk its long-term sustainability. That’s why the LIFT America Act would direct NTIA to handle broadband infrastructure funding. I would like to hear how Administrator Redl would handle this responsibility,” Rep. Pallone said.
“Finally, I’m interested to learn how Administrator Redl plans to deal with internet governance and our international commitments. Senator [Ted] Cruz [R., Texas] has been pushing for the U.S. to walk away from our agreements regarding ICANN. I believe strongly that Senator Cruz is playing right in to Russia’s hands in their efforts to shake global confidence in our government. Ultimately these efforts could undermine the integrity of the internet,” he continued.
“I was even more disappointed to see Senator Cruz try to use the confirmation process to force Administrator Redl to commit to undermining our country’s goodwill overseas. These commitments are counterproductive. I would therefore like to hear from the Administrator whether he has promised a predetermined outcome to his proceedings relating to America’s oversight of ICANN,” Rep. Pallone concluded.
Later, in response to a question from Rep. Doyle, Mr. Redl said that while he had committed during his confirmation process that NTIA would look into whether there was any way to reverse the IANA transition, he did not agree to any specific outcome.
Mr. Redl also emphasized in response to a question from Chairman Blackburn that because the IANA transition has been completed, “it would be very difficult to put the genie back in the bottle.”
Chairman Blackburn also asked Mr. Redl about the $115 million grant program established by the NG911 Advancement Act of 2012, which was part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. NTIA is administering the grant program with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Mr. Redl said he is “optimistic” that the agencies will “be able to have the grants out … by the end of this calendar year.”
In response to a question from Rep. Doyle about cybersecurity, Mr. Redl said that “the president has made clear that he believes we need to do more” about the security of communications networks.
Rep. Jerry McNerney (D., Calif.) also raised the issue of “the FCC’s failure to embrace cybersecurity.” He asked Mr. Redl whether NTIA has the resources it needs, and Mr. Redl said he believed the president’s budget proposal would provide the needed funding.
Rep. Doyle praised the multi-stakeholder processes convened by NTIA under Mr. Redl’s predecessor, Lawrence Strickling, to address a variety of Internet-related issues and asked whether the initiative would continue. “What topics do you plan to address?” he asked.
“We think engagement with the private sector is what NTIA really brings to the table as a value-add,” Mr. Redl said, pledging to find “as many ways as possible” to engage with the private sector.
Chairman Walden asked about the possibility for federal agencies to lease their spectrum for commercial use, as an alternative to relocating their operations to different bands to clear the spectrum.
“The law is clear that NTIA needs to treat clearing as its first priority,” Mr. Redl said. However, the agency’s “request for leasing authority is a way to add another tool to our tool chest,” because not all spectrum is suitable for clearing. “There are other efficiencies that could be gained through leasing,” he said, adding, “I don’t want to prejudge what leasing would look like.”
Rep. Bob Latta (R., Ohio), vice chairman of the full committee, asked, “How much more spectrum will 5G networks need? How much for self-driving cars?”
Mr. Redl said, “I wish it were simple to answer. We’re constantly reevaluating spectrum needs.”
Mr. Latta also asked about efforts by certified public accounting (CPAs) interests to obtain a generic top-level domain (g-TLD) assignment from ICANN for “.cpa.”
Mr. Redl said he would be meeting with CPAs at an ICANN meeting in Puerto Rico next week “to see what we can do.”
Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D., Calif.) asked whether NTIA is “studying any bands below 6 megahertz that are valuable for unlicensed?”
Mr. Redl said that the FCC makes the decision whether a particular spectrum allocation will be made on a licensed or unlicensed basis.
Asked about any recommendations NTIA might have made to the FCC on the subject, Mr. Redl said, “We haven’t taken a firm position. We believe in a balance of licensed and unlicensed [allocations].” He said that as using higher frequencies becomes more viable, the “scarcity issue” that had heightened competition between licensed and unlicensed users is being eased.
Rep. McNerney asked “what’s next” with regard to NTIA’s IoT security efforts. “Stay tuned,” Mr. Redl responded.
Rep. John Shimkus (R., Ill.) expressed concern that states might seek to show that they are not diverting 911 fees by “put[ting] the money in and tak[ing] it back out.”
Mr. Redl said that NTIA will work with Congress “if we find states that are gaming the system.”
Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R., Fla.) asked about the use of FCC Form 477 broadband data in making high-cost subsidy decisions, and how that might effect “payor” states like Florida that contribute more to the Universal Service Fund than they receive from it.
“We think it needs to be more accurate and more granular,” Mr. Redl said. “We want to get good data in your hands. We want to get good data in the rest of the executive branch’s hands,” he added.
Rep. Susan Brooks (R., Ind.) asked which spectrum bands are likely to raise the most revenue at auction.
Mr. Redl noted that there are many factors influencing the market value of spectrum, including the physical characteristics of transmissions in the band and the costs of clearing the spectrum and getting services to market. “It’s a complicated equation to figure,” he said, noting that the value of spectrum is “a moving target on its best day.”
In a letter placed into the hearing record by unanimous consent, the Utilities Technology Council urged NTIA “to continue to support access to spectrum by utilities, as well as for 5G services, the latter which could not function without the former.”
“Spectrum is an essential element to our highly reliable electric infrastructure. Given the essential nature of our industry — along with NTIA’s mission of efficient spectrum use by the federal government — finding a mechanism to allow for spectrum sharing with utilities is an important initiative,” UTC added.
It noted that it has begun discussions with NTIA regarding a public-private partnership in the 406-420 MHz band “where utilities would build out the band with trusted equipment manufacturers, and work with the few existing government incumbents in the band to ensure continued robust availability for them. We look forward to agreement on concrete next steps in the coming weeks. UTC is also promoting the use of this band for utilities in the international spectrum arena, working with our affiliates in Brazil, Europe, and Canada.” —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]
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