National Telecommunications and Information Administration head David J. Redl today fielded questions on a myriad of topics at his first appearance in his post before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, including on 5G deployment and other spectrum issues, broadband mapping, ZTE Corp., Internet governance, and privacy.
In his opening statement, committee Chairman John Thune (R., S.D.) stressed the importance of building on the recently enacted MOBILE NOW Act, which became law in a fiscal year 2018 omnibus appropriations bill (TR Daily, March 23), adding that the legislation “was just a down payment” toward making additional frequencies available for wireless carriers.
He commended NTIA for its announcement that the 3450–3550 megahertz band has been identified as a band that could possibly be repurposed for commercial services.
“Of course, identifying and freeing up spectrum is only part of the equation,” Mr. Thune added. “Knowing what parts of the country are unserved and prioritizing deployment in those areas is crucial to closing the digital divide. Mapping broadband availability relies on the quality of broadband data. Since the initial deployment of broadband in the 1990s, two federal agencies have implemented broadband data mapping initiatives — NTIA and the Federal Communications Commission. While each agency has identified areas of the nation in need of further development, everyone can agree that such mapping can and should be improved.”
Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.), the committee’s ranking member, was one of several Democrats to complain about the Commerce Department’s reversal of an export-denial order that had endangered the survival of ZTE Corp. (TR Daily, June 7), and he also said that “this administration’s relationships with our international colleagues appear to be at an all-time low. These relationships are essential to your work with our partners to preserve a free and open internet, harmonize spectrum and establish basic norms for international telecommunications regulation.” Mr. Nelson also complained that the Trump administration “has no plan to provide real, tangible support” for broadband infrastructure deployment.
However, Mr. Nelson commended NTIA for helping push forward a next-generation 911 (NG-911) grant program.
In response to a question from Mr. Thune about how NTIA is fulfilling its spectrum-related obligations, Mr. Redl noted that it is laying the groundwork in collaboration with other agencies on reports required by the MOBILE NOW Act on incentives to ensure agencies use spectrum efficiently and bidirectional sharing.
He also mentioned several times during the hearing that the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposed authorizing NTIA to lease federal spectrum to non-federal entities (TR Daily, Feb. 12). He said that would be a helpful provision, especially when government systems can’t be relocated to other bands.
The FY 2018 omnibus appropriations bill included $7.5 million for NTIA to update the national broadband map in coordination with the FCC. Mr. Redl noted that NTIA issued a request for comment recently soliciting views about sources of data for that update (TR Daily, May 30).
Mr. Nelson asked Mr. Redl several questions about whether NTIA will ensure that satellite communications will be protected, noting their importance to the space industry. Mr. Redl noted that President Trump has directed the Commerce Department to establish a commercial space office, and he said the government must “strike the right balance” in its policies to meet the needs of both satellite and terrestrial wireless providers.
Sen. Maggie Hassan (D., N.H.) also expressed concern about broadband coverage maps and she asked Mr. Redl what role he played in the ZTE decision.
He replied that the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security handled that issue, noting that NTIA has no such law enforcement functions.
Sen. Hassan said “it is very disturbing” that NTIA was not involved given its role in cyber issues.
She also asked how the ZTE situation will impact 5G deployment.
“I think that remains to be seen,” Mr. Redl replied. “We are all racing to 5G.”
Sen. Ed Markey (D., Mass.) asked Mr. Redl whether it was wrong for Facebook, Inc., to share user information with dozens of companies.
“I’m not familiar enough with the issue to know,” Mr. Redl replied, adding that the Federal Trade Commission would have jurisdiction over such an issue and NTIA was not a regulatory or enforcement agency.
“I think almost every American has a view on that case,” Mr. Markey said. “So the fact that you don’t have a view on it, to me, is surprising and disturbing.”
Mr. Markey asked whether there should be stronger privacy protections in the U.S. Mr. Redl replied that the Trump administration has not taken a position on whether such legislation is needed.
“So you don’t have a view on whether or not companies should have to get permission from American citizens before their privacy information is resold” he asked.
Mr. Redl said companies should have to get such permission.
“This is another area where the rest of the world is leaving us behind,” Sen. Markey complained. “The rest of the world is moving to a privacy regime that actually does respect individuals.”
Mr. Markey also asked whether agencies should be given incentives to share or clear spectrum. Mr. Redl said they should and he noted the incentives report Congress has asked NTIA to do.
Mr. Markey asked whether incentive auctions make sense.
Mr. Redl said that such auctions are “a little more challenging” when they involve federal agencies because of the number of agencies that share bands. “So it’s a much more complicated question when you’re looking at government use because of the nature of their assignments,” he added.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D., Hawaii), ranking member of the Senate communications, technology, innovation, and the Internet subcommittee, also asked Mr. Redl about broadband mapping.
“We are just maddened by the FCC’s process, just deeply, deeply frustrated,” he said.
Mr. Redl said NTIA is working with the FCC to see how their work will fit into the FCC’s map. But he noted that the administration had asked for $50 million to update the map, getting only $7.5 million. He said it is looking to see what data sets it can obtain from elsewhere in the federal government.
Mr. Schatz also asked Mr. Redl if the decision by the Commerce Department under the Obama administration to relinquish its oversight of the IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) functions performed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to a global Internet multistakeholder community could be reversed.
Mr. Redl said he doesn’t think it can be, but he noted that NTIA sought comment on that issue in a notice of inquiry released earlier this month on its decisions on international Internet policy priorities (TR Daily, June 4). He noted that the NOI asked if the transition can be unwound, how would that occur, and if not, why not.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), who had held up Mr. Redl’s confirmation for months last year over the IANA transition, asked Mr. Redl questions about the issue. Mr. Cruz called the transition decision “grossly irresponsible” and said it made it more difficult for the U.S. “to protect core functions of the Internet.”
Mr. Redl said he has engaged various stakeholders in response to concerns that Mr. Cruz had expressed and decided to ask directly in the NOI whether the transition could be reversed.
Mr. Cruz also asked Mr. Redl whether he supported nationalization of 5G networks, which was floated in a National Security Council memo leaked earlier this year (TR Daily, Jan. 29).
Mr. Redl said NTIA is focused on helping wireless carriers deploy their networks in a competitive environment. When pressed by Sen. Cruz about whether nationalization would be a bad idea, Mr. Redl said, “My advice to the president would be that we should not move forward to nationalize 5G.”
Regarding the IANA transition, Mr. Redl told Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) that he hopes to have a definitive answer on the IANA transition question this summer, depending on how many comments NTIA gets in response to its NOI. He said that the agency had originally planned to convene a panel of experts to study the matter but then decided to solicit broad comment. He said the expert route could still be used depending on the comments that are filed.
Meanwhile, the Utilities Technology Council submitted a statement to the committee today saying that “utilities in the United States are interested in sharing spectrum in the 406–420 MHz band with federal government operations. The government’s own research has identified the 406–420 MHz band as being lightly used and potentially suitable for sharing (‘Report to the President: Realizing the Full Potential of Government-Held Spectrum to Spur Economic Growth,’ Executive Office of the President, President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, July 2012). UTC is engaged in discussions with NTIA regarding sharing the band with utilities, which would make effective use of the spectrum by promoting the public interest in energy security and reliability. This would also provide opportunities for public-private partnerships to develop shared systems between utilities and federal government operations. We look forward to reaching agreement on concrete next steps in the coming months.” —Paul Kirby, [email protected]
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