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Blog Category: National Telecommunications and Information Administration

Supporting Wireless Innovation Through a “Model City”

Supporting Wireless Innovation Through a “Model City”

The United States is fast becoming a wireless nation. The demand for wireless devices in all sectors of our lives – from smartphones to smart utility meters – is driving the exploding demand for access to spectrum. By 2019, Cisco predicts there will be a seven-fold increase in data traffic. 

The Obama administration has been working hard to meet this demand, pledging to make 500 megahertz of additional spectrum available for mobile broadband by 2020. The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which manages the federal government’s use of spectrum, has been working with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other federal agencies to make more federal spectrum available for commercial use. At the same time, we are working to balance the needs of federal agencies that rely on spectrum to perform a wide range of mission-critical functions – from communicating with weather satellites, to navigating passenger planes and protecting our nation’s borders. 

Meeting the sky-rocketing demand for wireless technologies has required new approaches to freeing up spectrum beyond the traditional model of clearing spectrum for exclusive commercial use. Spectrum sharing between federal and nonfederal users also has to be part of the solution. To further this effort, NTIA and the FCC sought public comment last summer on whether to launch a proposed “Model City” that could test the most advanced sharing technologies in a real-world setting. Testing these new technologies will help promote innovation in this field by enabling shared use of a variety of frequencies used by federal agencies, while at the same time supporting the development of new wireless technologies that require access to spectrum to function. 

Last month, NTIA and the FCC co-hosted a roundtable discussion at the FCC to meet with those who submitted comments on the Model City Joint Public Notice and discuss the Model City concept and   framework. Participants expressed great interest in the Model City concept as a groundbreaking way to demonstrate and evaluate innovative spectrum sharing technologies. The participants also recommended launching the proposal in more than one city. 

Moving forward, NTIA and the FCC plan to host a public workshop this spring to gather more input on the Model City concept. Among the topics the workshop is likely to explore include what types of cities would be best for testing sharing technologies, how should these model city experiments be funded, and what frequencies and applications should be part of the test? 

By looking for innovative ways and next generation technologies to meet the growing demand for spectrum while making the most efficient use of this vital resource, the United States will ensure it retains its leadership in wireless broadband innovation, which has been an important contributor to U.S. economic growth.

Broadband: The Electricity of the 21st Century

President Barack Obama with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker views demonstration of fiber optic spicing at Cedar Falls Utilities in Cedar Falls, Iowa, Jan. 14, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Cross blog post by U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, The White House Blog

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, American business owners, scientists, and entrepreneurs have driven our economy forward and kept the United States leading the way in innovation and global competition. A thread woven through the fabric of our national identity has been having the most productive and highly skilled workforce in the world.

A 21st-century America should be no different.

In order to help revitalize a struggling American economy in the post-Depression 1930s, the Rural Electrification Act called for a push to electrify rural areas. Connecting otherwise hard-to-reach communities through electricity and telephone services gave them the ability to more easily compete on both the national and global economic stage. It was an idea as deeply important to the viability of 20th-century rural America as telecommunications and broadband Internet access is today.

For most Americans, the click of a mouse is all it takes to open the door to a world of up-to-the-minute information and global commerce. In remote communities in particular, broadband brings with it new access to health care, education, and economic opportunities that have not been available in the past. But there are still many for whom this is not yet a reality.

In our travels across the country, time and time again we hear stories of the positive impacts of our work building a strong, secure infrastructure. Investments in broadband access have helped our workforce keep up with the increasingly fast speed of business and ensured that our rural communities remain competitive and attractive to new investors.

Since 2009, USDA has invested in new and improved broadband service to 1.49 million rural residents. That means expanded access to state-of-the-art health care, educational and cultural resources, and the opportunity for local businesses to compete in the global economy. In addition to core investments in broadband infrastructure, USDA has financed technologies that rely on broadband to ensure that rural Americans have access to 21st-century technology for education, health, and day-to-day life. For example, since 2009, our investments have helped more than 2,500 rural health care facilities use telemedicine to improve medical services for people living in remote rural areas, and more than 4,600 rural schools implement distance learning technology to expand their reach and improve access to information for thousands of students.

The Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) invested more than $4 billion in grants through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program to build network infrastructure, establish public computer centers, and develop digital literacy training to expand broadband adoption. Through those projects, we’ve made significant progress. Commerce grantees have built or upgraded more than 113,000 miles of fiber and connected nearly 25,000 community anchor institutions, such as schools and libraries. Our grantees also have established or upgraded 3,000 public computer centers, trained more than 4 million people, and helped roughly 735,000 households sign up for broadband.

NTIA Announces BroadbandUSA Effort to Assist Communities with Broadband Plans

NTIA Announces BroadbandUSA Effort to Assist Communities with Broadband Plans

Cross blog post by Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling

Over the past five years, we at NTIA have seen first-hand through our broadband grant program the power of broadband to transform lives and impact communities. Broadband has become a cornerstone of economic growth, providing Americans the tools they need to participate in the rapidly growing digital economy.

NTIA invested more than $4 billion in grants through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program to build network infrastructure, establish public computer centers, and develop digital literacy training to expand broadband adoption. Through those projects, we’ve made significant progress. Our grantees have built or upgraded more than 113,000 miles of fiber and connected nearly 25,000 community anchor institutions, such as schools and libraries. Our grantees also have established or upgraded 3,000 public computer centers, trained more than four million people and helped roughly 735,000 households sign up for broadband. An independent studyreleased by NTIA today shows that these grants are projected to increase economic output by as much as $21 billion annually.

But there’s more work to be done. Investing in broadband is a matter of basic equity. Americans who do not have access to the Internet are increasingly cut off from job opportunities, educational resources, healthcare information and even government services. Communities that do not have high-speed infrastructure are increasingly at a disadvantage in attracting new businesses and new jobs and competing in today’s knowledge-based economy. Since 2009, broadband adoption has increased more than 12 percent in the United States and stands at 72 percent according to our latest reported data. That is a healthy growth rate but it still means that almost a quarter of U.S. households are not online at home.  

President Obama today is announcing a number of additional steps to help more Americans get access to fast, affordable and reliable broadband. And at NTIA, rest assured that we will remain at the forefront of federal efforts to ensure that all Americans share in the promise and potential of the digital economy. We’ve learned about what works and we’ve heard what communities need. And we’re eager to share the knowledge and expertise we’ve accumulated over the last few years. Today I’m happy to unveil our BroadbandUSA initiative aimed at finding new ways to assist communities seeking to ensure their citizens have the broadband capacity they need to advance economic development, education, health care, and public safety. 

Promoting Spectrum Sharing In the Wireless Broadband Era

Promoting Spectrum Sharing In the Wireless Broadband Era

Cross blog post by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration 

In the summer of 2010 -- just three years after the introduction of the iPhone -- President Obama called on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to collaborate with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to free up critical radio spectrum to fuel the breakneck growth of the wireless broadband market. Today, this directive is more pressing than ever, with the wild popularity of smartphones and tablets driving unprecedented commercial demand for mobile bandwidth.

Identifying the spectrum to keep up is a top priority for NTIA, which manages federal spectrum usage. And promoting spectrum sharing across the public and private sectors is an important key to achieving this goal.

At NTIA, we recognize that spectrum is the lifeblood of the mobile broadband revolution. We are committed to ensuring the industry has the bandwidth it needs to continue to innovate and thrive.

But we face an important balancing act since federal agencies also rely on this precious and finite resource to perform all sorts of mission-critical functions – from communicating with weather satellites (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to navigating passenger planes (Federal Aviation Administration) to operating weapons systems (Defense Department).

Working in consultation with the FCC, which oversees commercial and other non-federal spectrum uses, NTIA has made good progress toward President Obama’s target of freeing up 500 megahertz of spectrum for licensed and unlicensed wireless broadband services by 2020.

Through fiscal year 2014, NTIA had formally recommended or otherwise identified 335 megahertz of spectrum for potential reallocation. That includes spectrum in the 1695-1710 and 1755-1780 bands auctioned off in the FCC’s successful AWS-3 auction.

The auction, which will fund important federal programs and pump billions into the U.S Treasury, showcases the potential for spectrum sharing. While many of the incumbent federal users in the auctioned bands will be relocating to other frequencies, some will instead be sharing their spectrum with new users.

To achieve the President’s goal, we need to move beyond the traditional approach of clearing government-held spectrum of federal users in order to auction it off to the private sector for exclusive use. Too often, relocating incumbent operations is too costly, too time-consuming and too disruptive to federal missions. The future lies in sharing spectrum – across government agencies and commercial services, and across time, geography and other dimensions in the future.

Building Partnerships and a Dedicated Team, Driven by our Mission

Building Partnerships and a Dedicated Team, Driven by our Mission

Guest blog post by TJ Kennedy, FirstNet Acting Executive Director

Partnerships. Plans. People. These are the essential components for success in both public and private sector organizations. At the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), we realize this, and continue to focus on these key areas as part of our mission to ensure the deployment of a Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN).  

The Partnerships. The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 established FirstNet and directed it to consult with various individuals, jurisdictions, and entities – including federal, state, tribal and local public safety entities – to ensure the building of the NPSBN. Congress wisely recognized that this monumental undertaking requires the input of and coordination with our future stakeholders and users of the network –our nation’s firefighters, EMS providers, law enforcement officers, and other public safety personnel.  

FirstNet has implemented a number of mechanisms to ensure that we are working with the public safety community and getting its feedback on the network. One such effort includes the leveraging of the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) to engage in a dialogue with its membership on important network planning and deployment issues.  FirstNet will focus this year on working with the PSAC in four key areas – early builder lessons learned, tribal engagement strategies, priority and pre-emption, and public safety-grade service.

The state consultation process is another major achievement with regard to partnering with the public safety community. Last year, our consultation staff worked closely with public safety officials in eight states and Puerto Rico, gathering crucial information we intend to use in the deployment of our services to public safety. The consultation process is being coordinated through the state-designated single points of contact to ensure that FirstNet obtains key information from regional, state, tribal and local jurisdictions in all 56 states and territories and understands their unique requirements for the network.

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.