David J. Redl, President Trump’s nominee to head the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, was asked questions at his nomination hearing today about a myriad of issues, including spectrum, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), rural broadband deployment, and Internet governance.Today’s hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee also featured Derek Kan, the nominee to be under secretary of Transportation-policy, and Robert L. Sumwalt III to be a member of the National Transportation Safety Board. He is currently acting chairman of the NTSB.
In his written testimony, Mr. Redl, who is chief Republican counsel on the House communications and technology subcommittee, stressed the importance of issues such as spectrum management, broadband deployment, and Internet governance. “Improving the performance of government spectrum systems, providing incentives for government agencies to make better use of spectrum, and promoting spectrum research and development have been critical to the digital economy and will continue to be important for NTIA,” he said. “The recent changes made by Congress to the Spectrum Relocation Fund are already driving federal agencies to reach for new efficiencies, but the work on this front is far from over. If confirmed, I will work to continue to improve government spectrum efficiency and make additional spectrum available to fuel our nation’s licensed and unlicensed wireless needs.”
He noted that Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao recently told Congress that broadband infrastructure will be part of the Trump administration’s infrastructure package. “If confirmed, I will work with the talented professionals at NTIA to drive investment in rural America to bring the economic opportunity of broadband to the unserved parts of our country,” he added.
Mr. Redl also noted that “NTIA is the United States’ representative on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ Government Advisory Committee where it works to ensure the Internet remains an engine for global communication and commerce; NTIA engages industry and the public in multistakeholder groups to address issues of privacy and the Internet of Things; and, NTIA works to protect the Internet and Internet users through its policy work on cybersecurity.
“This work is critical to preserving the Internet as an engine of free speech and free-market commerce, and to protecting Americans online,” he continued. “The multistakeholder process NTIA has employed holds the potential to bring a fresh approach to communications policy challenges and new levels of engagement with the Internet community. This same approach can also further NTIA’s work on cybersecurity. The President’s recent Executive Order on the topic recognizes the Department of Commerce’s role in cybersecurity and NTIA’s approach has the potential to provide a new voice to the commercial Internet and its users in this important discussion.”
Committee Chairman John Thune (R., S.D.) said a pipeline is needed for both licensed and unlicensed spectrum, and he asked Mr. Redl if he would work to see if underutilized federal spectrum could be used for commercial purposes through relocation or sharing. Mr. Redl said he would, stressing the need to balance agency and commercial needs. He also answered in the affirmative that he would work to ensure that the U.S. maintains a leadership position in 5G deployment. Mr. Thune also noted that the Spectrum Pipeline Act of 2015 modified the Spectrum Relocation Fund so agencies could use funds for research and development, but he said there are concerns that NTIA’s review process of plans from agencies is too slow. He asked Mr. Redl to look into that process to make sure funds can be disbursed more quickly. Mr. Redl said he would.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D., Hawaii), ranking member of the communications, technology, innovation, and the Internet subcommittee, said that “it’s critical that NTIA strike the right balance” between the spectrum needs of federal agencies and commercial users. He also said that NTIA should create “additional opportunities for shared and unlicensed uses.”
“I believe it’s imperative that the multistakeholder approach to international Internet governance be protected during this administration,” the senator added.
Mr. Schatz asked Mr. Redl if he would coordinate with other federal agencies on Internet of things issues, as Congress mandated of the Commerce Department in fiscal year 2017 omnibus appropriations legislation. Mr. Redl said he would.
Sen. Roger F. Wicker (R., Miss.), chairman of the communications subcommittee, asked Mr. Redl several questions about FirstNet.
“Do you believe opt-out choice in the statute is meant to allow states the true right to opt out of FirstNet and construct their own radio access networks?” the senator asked.
Mr. Redl said he hopes that states will react favorably to FirstNet state plans. But he added that he believes “that the states should be given the opportunity to truly opt out, but the statute also says that it’s NTIA’s job to make sure that those opt-out plans meet the needs public safety users.”
Mr. Wicker then asked if Mr. Redl thinks that states will have enough time to decide whether to opt out. States will have 90 days from the delivery of final state plans to make that decision.
“I certainly hope so, senator. There’s been a lot of work done at the state level to date in the lead up to this point,” Mr. Redl replied. He cited the use of State and Local Implementation Grant Program (SLIGP) funds, although states have complained that they have not been able to use the funds to prepare opt-out options.
Sen. Wicker also asked Mr. Redl how to make sure the FirstNet system doesn’t “become a cost burden for rural users.”
“Networks aren’t much without users, senator,” Mr. Redl replied, adding, “If confirmed, I will work with FirstNet to make sure that we get as many people on the network as possible.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) pressed Mr. Redl about the decision by the Commerce Department under the Obama administration to relinquish its oversight of the IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) functions performed by ICANN to a global Internet multistakeholder community. Sen. Cruz was a critic of the move.
“Do you think that was a wise and prudent decision?” Mr. Cruz asked. “The reality is, we are in the situation we’re in,” Mr. Redl replied, noting that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told the committee that the administration “supports … the multistakehnooder model of Internet governance.”
“OK, I’m going to ask the question again. Do you think it is a wise and prudent decision?” Sen. Cruz pressed.
“The reality of the situation was that once the decision was made to announce that it was going to happen, I think it would have been very difficult to put the genie back in the bottle,” Mr. Redl said. “I’ve spent a lot of time in my capacity as a congressional staffer working to try to ensure that, as we went through that process, U.S. interests were protected. I feel confident that, given the way the process turned out and the changes that were made to the accountability mechanisms at ICAAN, that the U.S. is in a position to continue to protect its interests.”
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R., Alaska) asked Mr. Redl for his thoughts about what can be done to ensure that federal agency operations are protected from interference while enabling additional commercial deployment on spectrum. “We’re going to have to be creative,” Mr. Redl replied, while also agreeing that there is a need to continue to improve spectral efficiency. “The technology keeps changing.”
Sen. Gary Peters (D., Mich.), who said he is working with Sen. Thune on autonomous vehicle legislation, sought assurances from Messrs. Redl and Kan that an ongoing review of the 5.9 gigahertz band for sharing between Wi-Fi devices and incumbent dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) operations would be “a fair and transparent process that is driven by the facts.”
“We should be pushing for transparency … in everything we do related to spectrum,” Mr. Redl said, stressing the importance of protecting incumbents. Mr. Kan said the senator had his commitment.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R., W.Va.) said “there was a lot of wasted money in” the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program in her state. Mr. Redl said he would work on rural broadband issues with her to encourage private investment. “BTOP – the program in West Virginia was a lost opportunity,” he said.
Sen. Moore said she has written Secretary Chao about including broadband in an infrastructure package. Mr. Kan said “there are a lot of synergies” between transportation and broadband projects, such as laying cable at the same time roads are built.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) asked Mr. Redl if he was committed to working with the National 911 Program on next-generation 911 (NG-911) issues. He was he would. “911 is a critical piece of our public safety infrastructure,” he added.
Ms. Klobuchar also asked Mr. Sumwalt about the need to address the dangers of distracted driving.
Mr. Sumwalt noted that it was one of the NTSB’s top 10 issues to address. “We are very concerned about it,” he said, stressing the need for education and awareness, laws, and enforcement. “We are concerned about distractions in all modes” of transportation.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D., Nev.) asked Mr. Redl to commit to break down silos to enable the timely siting of infrastructure on public lands and rural areas. He said he would. In response to a question from the senator, Mr. Sumwalt agreed that the timely deployment of positive train control (PTC) will save lives.- Paul Kirby, email@example.com