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Blog Category: National Telecommunications and Information Administration

Operational Excellence in Federal Spectrum Management

Operational Excellence in Federal Spectrum Management

One of the core functions of the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is to manage federal uses of wireless spectrum to make the most efficient use of this precious resource. It’s complex, technical work performed by a team of resourceful engineers who labor behind the scenes to ensure that federal agencies have the radio spectrum they need to perform all sorts of mission-critical functions. 

For instance, the Federal Aviation Administration relies on spectrum to safely navigate planes. The Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) depends on spectrum to communicate with weather satellites tracking storms. And the Pentagon uses spectrum to operate everything from radar systems to weapons systems. 

NTIA’s Office of Spectrum Management makes this possible. And while the office has performed this vital mission for years, it’s a task that is taking on added urgency and facing mounting pressure amid skyrocketing commercial-sector demand for spectrum to fuel the explosive growth of wireless broadband. 

The wild popularity of iPhones, Android devices and other mobile gadgets of all sorts – which consumers are using to upload picture to Facebook, watch videos on YouTube and devour other multimedia content – is driving unprecedented demand for bandwidth for licensed and unlicensed commercial wireless services. 

To balance the growing need for spectrum among commercial users and federal agencies alike, NTIA’s Office of Spectrum Management is collaborating with the Federal Communications Commission to identify spectrum that can potentially be repurposed for commercial use and to promote spectrum sharing across the public and private sectors. Against this backdrop, NTIA’s spectrum engineers are working closely with federal agencies to ensure that they are using their assigned frequencies as efficiently as possible. 

Multiple teams in NTIA’s Office of Spectrum Management support this critical work. Two that achieved “operational excellence” in fiscal 2013 – getting more done with fewer resources, while still meeting exacting engineering quality standards – are the Systems Review Branch and the Frequency Assignment Branch. 

The Public Computer Center at the College of Menominee Nations, Wisconsin

The Public Computer Center at the College of Menominee Nations, Wisconsin

While Native American Heritage Month is celebrated just once a year in November, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has been serving America’s Tribal Nations effectively for many years through its grant programs. 

One such grant of $3.4 million was made in 2010 to the College of Menominee Nations (the College) through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). This Public Computer Center (PCC) project included the construction of a new 10,000 square foot campus Technology Center and upgrades of broadband capacity to serve the more than 5,000 members of the Menominee Tribe, who live in one of Wisconsin’s more rural and economically disadvantaged areas. According to Ron Jurgens, Institutional Research Director for the college, the new facility continues to draw people from the reservation and neighboring counties to use the technology, pursue their educational goals, and take advantage of 100 megabit Internet service.  In fact, the center is so popular that the county board voted to relocate the public library on the college campus.  

The project included certificate and technical diploma training, skills-building activities ranging from GED assistance to math and reading coaching, career exploration and placement, and special workshops for economically vulnerable populations including people with disabilities, at-risk youth, and the unemployed.  In an unusual development, the local Workforce Board recently decided to house the area’s Job Center at the Community Technology Center, where two full-time employment specialists now work to help people with job search, resume building, and skill development. 

The College also partnered with the University of Wisconsin-Extension, another BTOP grantee, to offer tribal members classes in computer skills and digital literacy. Today, the partnership continues, with an Extension staff member working daily at the CTC.  

Many members of the Menominee Nation are active duty military deployed around the world. Learning computer skills, including how to use Skype software, has enabled family members to keep in touch with loved ones serving around the country and overseas. Additionally, PCC staff worked with the local transit authority to place signage promoting the computer center on buses and negotiated a new bus stop in front of the center and library to make it easier for community members to get there. 

Digital Nation Report Shows Rapid Adoption of Mobile Internet Use

Digital Nation Report

A report released today by the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) found that Americans are rapidly embracing mobile Internet devices such as smart phones and tablet computers for a wide range of activities beyond just voice communications, such as checking email and using social networks.

NTIA’s “Exploring the Digital Nation: Embracing the Mobile Internet,” which is based on a U.S. Census Bureau survey in October 2012 of more than 53,000 households, found that Americans were increasingly using their mobile devices to engage in applications that they might have previously done on a desktop or laptop computer or not at all. Between July 2011 and October 2012, the report found big increases in mobile phone users 25 and older who used their devices to download mobile applications (22 percent to 32 percent), browse the Web (33 percent to 42 percent), check their email (33 percent to 43 percent), and use social networks (22 percent to 30 percent).

Mobile phones appear to be helping to narrow the digital divide, the gap between the technology haves and have nots, among traditionally disadvantaged groups. Mobile phone use among those with family incomes below $25,000 and among disabled Americans each increased by 4 percentage points, growing from 73 percent to 77 percent and from 68 percent to 72 percent, respectively. Similarly, mobile phone use among seniors 65 and older grew by 4 percentage points between 2011 and 2012, from 68 percent to 72 percent.

Disparities in mobile phone adoption that remained between whites and minorities appeared to nearly vanish between 2011 and 2012. The report found that 88 percent of whites reported using mobile phones in 2012, compared with 87 percent of both African Americans and Hispanics.

Mobile phone use among rural Americans also grew by 5 percentage points to 85 percent between 2011 and 2012. Mobile phone use among urban Americans increased more slowly during this same period, from 86 percent to 88 percent, matching the 2 percentage-point increase to 88 percent in mobile phone use among all Americans 25 and older.

NTIA Broadband Program Supports Workforce Preparation Across the United States

Las Vegas Urban League: Young visitors to the Doolittle Community Center use the free Internet access to work on school projects.

Cross blog post by Laura Breeden, program director for public computing and broadband adoption, National Telecommunications and Information Administration

Last week, President Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act aimed at creating a more flexible and responsive system of workforce development to meet the needs of employers looking to fill 21st century jobs. Ensuring U.S. workers are able to compete and succeed is a key priority at the U.S. Commerce Department. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker served on a task force with Vice President Biden that recently released a report looking at solutions for making the nation’s workforce and training system more job-driven, integrated and effective.

At the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), workforce development is a priority of our broadband grant programs. Grant recipients have helped unemployed and under-employed people learn to use computers and the Internet for job searching, skill-building, resume development and networking. Today, in keeping with the Department’s commitment to helping match skilled workers with good jobs, we are releasing four case studies on employment-related impacts of our broadband projects. The reports, prepared by independent contractor ASR Analytics, examined the effectiveness of the more than $450 million in matching grants, provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, to establish or upgrade public computer centers and initiate innovative broadband adoption programs in underserved communities.

The first report focuses on Workforce West Virginia (WFWV). The agency is responsible for promoting employment and job growth in West Virginia, which has chronically high rates of poverty and unemployment. The grantee upgraded 19 workforce centers and 75 additional centers in locations such as libraries and veterans’ support organizations, with new computers and Wi-Fi. In addition to serving thousands of low-income and unemployed patrons each week, the WFWV centers experienced measurable productivity gains as a result of patrons’ ability to search for jobs, prepare resumes and practice computer skills more independently. This has allowed staff to spend more time focusing on specialized assistance. The high-speed network has also made intra-agency communication and technology management faster and more reliable.

Working to Ensure Public Safety Has Cutting-Edge, Reliable Communications

Working to Ensure Public Safety Has Cutting-Edge, Reliable Communications

Guest blog post by Stephen Fletcher, Associate Administrator, Office of Public Safety Communications, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)

First responders know the deadly consequences of not having a communications network that is reliable and interoperable, a problem highlighted during the September 2001 terrorist attacks and Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.  

The U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is working to ensure our nation’s first responders have access to the most advanced communications when responding to an emergency or natural disaster.

NTIA is working closely with the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), an independent authority within the agency, as it works towards creating a nationwide public safety broadband network. In support of that effort, NTIA also is working to ensure states are prepared to take full advantage of this network once it is deployed.

NTIA awarded $116 million in grants to 54 states and territories to help plan for the broadband network that FirstNet will deploy. The State and Local Implementation Grant Program (SLIGP) is helping states prepare for the development and implementation of a more resilient broadband network, which will enable first responders to communicate efficiently and, consequently, save lives.

With the help of SLIGP funding, states and territories have begun to initiate collaborative relationships with public safety stakeholders through enhanced statewide governance, as well as by conducting education and outreach regarding the public safety broadband network, consulting with FirstNet, and identifying potential users. For example, FloridaNet, the team facilitating Florida’s broadband coverage needs, used SLIGP funding to host a listening tour – a series of eight, three-hour sessions across the state – and a webinar earlier this year to provide an overview of FirstNet and the role played by FloridaNet for law enforcement, fire, emergency medical services, emergency management, hospitals, Tribal Nations, and other stakeholders.

Going forward, NTIA will support its SLIGP grantees by engaging in outreach and technical assistance activities, such as holding webinars and conference calls, developing programmatic best practice documents, and conducting site visits. Through this work, and the work of many others, the United States is on its way to developing a public safety broadband network that stands tough in the face of crisis.

FirstNet: Deploying a Resilient Broadband Network for the Nation’s First Responders

FirstNet:  Deploying a Resilient Broadband Network for the Nation’s First Responders

Guest blog post by TJ Kennedy, FirstNet Acting General Manager

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), an independent entity within the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, was established by Congress to develop a nationwide broadband network for the millions of first responders whose mission requires them to be resilient every time they are called to duty.  Whether they are responding to day-to-day emergencies – such as traffic accidents – or large-scale disasters like wildfires and hurricanes, the nation’s firefighters, law enforcement personnel, and emergency medical services are critical to ensuring our safety and security during all types of hazards.

A great deal of progress has been made to enhance emergency communications in light of the interoperability and operability challenges that hampered the rescue and response operations to the September 11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina.  But we owe it to our nation’s first responders to ensure they have reliable and interoperable communications all of the time.

To deploy a nationwide public safety broadband network, FirstNet is working closely with first responders in all 56 states and territories to ensure their communications needs are built into the nationwide network from day one, so they can seamlessly share information and communicate under all conditions.  And like first responders themselves, the network must be resilient:  it must be able to withstand the elements and recover rapidly from disruptions, including deliberate attacks, accidents, or naturally occurring weather situations.

NTIA Releases Interim Progress Report on Administration’s Plan to Free Up More Spectrum

Cross-post by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration

NTIA today released the Fourth Interim Progress Report on the Obama Administration’s initiative to identify and make available 500 megahertz of federal and non-federal spectrum for commercial wireless broadband use by 2020. This report also includes a plan for federal agencies to conduct quantitative assessments of their actual spectrum usage in 960 megahertz of additional spectrum, as directed in President Obama’s June 2013 Memorandum.

America’s future competitiveness and global technology leadership depend on access to radio spectrum – the lifeblood of smartphones, tablets, and other data-hungry wireless devices.  That is why President Obama’s June 2010 Memorandum set a bold goal of nearly doubling the amount of spectrum available for commercial use by the end of this decade. Between October 2010 and September 2013, NTIA formally recommended or otherwise identified for potential reallocation up to 405 megahertz of spectrum.

On June 14, 2013, President Obama issued a second memorandum that builds on the Administration’s commitment to make additional spectrum available for wireless use.  The memorandum established a set of measures that federal agencies, in collaboration with industry and other stakeholders, will take to more aggressively enhance spectrum efficiency and enable access to more spectrum for consumer services and applications. Under the memorandum,  federal agencies  will be making quantitative assessments of their actual spectrum usage in certain bands that could potentially be made available for sharing with, or release to, commercial users, according to the plan set forth in this report.Today’s report outlines the progress made, in collaboration with the Federal Communications Commission(FCC) and other federal agencies, from October 1, 2012 through September 30, 2013. The key accomplishments last fiscal year include the following:

  • NTIA’s Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee concluded its groundbreaking work to explore relocation alternatives and spectrum sharing arrangements between federal agencies and commercial mobile broadband systems in the 1695-1710 MHz and 1755-1850 MHz bands.
  • NTIA released regulations and guidance implementing changes to the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act (CSEA) that provide eligible federal agencies incentives and financial assistance to facilitate the transition of the reallocated federal bands that the FCC will auction.
  • NTIA published an initial assessment on spectrum-sharing technologies and the risk to federal users if Unlicensed-National Information Infrastructure (U-NII) devices were authorized to operate in the 5350-5470 MHz and 5850-5925 MHz bands (5 GHz).

Working to Ensure Americans Remain Connected When Disaster Strikes

Cross-post by Stephen Fletcher, Associate Administrator, National Telecommunications and Information Administration

With the start of summer comes the beginning of the hurricane season along much of the U.S. coast. And with hurricanes comes the increased possibility that communications could be disrupted.

Less than two years ago, Hurricane Sandy left a trail of death and destruction including disrupted communications for millions of people and thousands of businesses along the East Coast. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has reported that about a quarter of cell sites across 10 states and the District of Columbia were knocked out of service during the peak of the storm.

As the Executive Branch agency primarily responsible for advising the President on telecommunications and information issues, the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has been working with other federal agencies to help Americans remain connected in the wake of natural disasters or other emergencies.

In its report released last August, the White House’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force called on NTIA and the U.S. Department of Energy to work with the FCC to develop recommendations that help facilitate improved resiliency for cell phone towers, data centers and other critical communications infrastructure in the event of a power disruption following a disaster. NTIA and the Energy Department expect to complete the recommendations later this year.

In the meantime, the FCC has developed some steps consumers can take to ensure they remain connected should disaster strike and power is lost. The recommendations, developed with the help of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), include charging your wireless phones and other wireless devices ahead of a coming storm and using text messaging instead of making a phone call to help alleviate network congestion during and after a storm strikes.

For more information on what to expect from the upcoming hurricane season, check out the latest predictions for the Atlantic and Central Pacific regions from NTIA’s Commerce sister agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

New Case Studies Show Schools, Libraries and Health Care Providers Play Key Role in Broadband Expansion and Adoption

Foundation for California Community Colleges helps students become digital literacy trainers and provides them with a free new laptop/tablet to help them share their skills with local community members.

Editor's note: This has been cross-posted from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration blog.

In 2010, as part of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), NTIA awarded more than $450 million in matching grants to establish or upgrade public computer centers and initiate innovative broadband adoption programs in underserved communities. Four years later, that investment has resulted in more than 3,000 new or improved public computer centers and produced 600,000 new household broadband subscriptions.

These grants complement the $3.4 billion in infrastructure investments from NTIA that have enabled BTOP grant recipients to connect more than 21,000 community anchor institutions with ultra-fast broadband, including 2,400 medical and health care providers, more than 1,300 libraries, and 8,000 K-12 schools. BTOP has provided a significant down-payment on President Obama’s ConnectED initiative to link all schools to high-speed Internet by 2018.

Schools, libraries, and health care providers were pivotal in making this rapid expansion possible. These anchor institutions already had close ties to their communities, recognized the enormous benefits high-speed Internet affords, and possessed skilled staff to organize classes and broker learning resources.

Big Data is Big Business for Commerce

Under Secretary for Economic Affairs Mark Doms (center) along with Erie Meyer, Joel Gurin, Waldo Jaquith, and Daniel Castro at the Center for Data Innovation hosted “The Economic Benefits of Open Data” event

Guest blog post by Mark Doms, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs

Big Data and Open Data are all the rage these days. However, Commerce was into Big Data before Big Data was cool. As far back as 1790, we began collecting data on patents in the U.S. and the Census Bureau conducted the first Decennial Census the same year. In 1870, the National Weather Service was created – which today is one of the biggest data producing agencies around.

Back then, our economy was based largely on agriculture. Over the years, our economy evolved through the industrial revolution, later giving rise to the strong service sector. Today, we are at the nascent stages of the next era in our economic growth, the information age. On a daily basis, there is an ever-increasing amount of data becoming available, and the demand for data is increasing exponentially. We have before us both great opportunity and fascinating challenges to understand how best to harness this national resource. This is a key focus of Commerce’s Open for Business Agenda.

You may not know it, but the Department of Commerce is home to many agencies that are your primary source for data that you likely use every day.

For example:

  • How many people live in the U.S. or in your hometown? You might know the Census Bureau is the authority on population, but did you know the Census Bureau’s data goes well beyond just population? Census also produces huge volumes of data on our economy, demographics, and fascinatingly insightful data describing our communities – or, if you are a business, your customers.
  • The Bureau of Economic Analysis is a little know agency that produces key economic data and many of the closely watched economic indicators that move markets, drive investment decisions and guide economic policy. Do you know which industries are the leading sources of income in your community, or to your customers? BEA data can tell you.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, is your primary source for weather, ocean and climate data – they are collecting data every minute of every day from land, sea, and even spaced-based sensors. When you hear the local forecast or hear about severe weather warning, that is NOAA data informing you about your environment in real time.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology, locally known as NIST, is our nation’s authority on broad swaths of scientific, cyber, and physical data – including, officially, what time it is.
  • We also have data on patents going back more than 200 years at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which is a gold mine of inspiration for innovation.
  • Other agencies in Commerce provide data on economic development, minority businesses, trade, and telecommunications and the Internet.

On any given day, the Department will generate in excess of 20 terabytes of data, and sometimes much more. Yet, we think we can do more with this resource. We want to take every step we can to open access to it to the entrepreneurs and innovators of America, as we are pretty convinced that there is huge unmet value and potential. We understand that a huge part of the value of data is when it is not seen alone, but as part of a rich tapestry of information. We believe that there is great opportunity to solve problems, innovate new businesses, and improve data-driven decision-making, and we are committed to that path.

That is why I was so glad to be a part of today’s launch of the Open Data 500 Project, housed out of the GovLab at NYU. This exciting project has verified what we were certain must be true: That hundreds of American companies are using Commerce data every day to innovate and deliver important goods and services to their customers.