The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) advises the President and works with other Executive Branch agencies to develop the administration’s domestic and foreign telecommunications policy. The agency is responsible for managing federal use of (radio frequency) spectrum, which includes significant military and intelligence use. NTIA spectrum regulation and policies affect our use of (and access to) common technologies such as cell phones, the Internet, public radio and television, wireless technology, and airplane travel. The agency both assigns frequencies to federal agencies and works with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC, which administers commercial and state use) to allocate and manage private sector use. As the spectrum is a shared, limited resource between the NTIA and the FCC, the NTIA is faced with the challenge of balancing federal use of spectrum with growing demand for spectrum use in the private sector.
The NTIA also carries out telecommunications and engineering research, develops new technologies, resolves technical issues for the federal government and private sector, and develops policy for the government communications satellite system. The agency administers grants in the telecommunications/information sector, and promotes liberalized, deregulated telecommunications policies abroad.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) was created as a result of a major Executive Branch reorganization that transferred and combined various functions of the White House’s Office of Telecommunications Policy (OTP) and the Commerce Department’s Office of Telecommunications (OT). (Since its creation in 1970, the OTP had been responsible for telecommunications policy and radio spectrum management on behalf of the President, for which the OT provided support staff.) Functions transferred to the new agency included presidential authority to assign frequencies to federal owned or operated radio stations, as well as other radio spectrum management activities and long-range spectrum planning in cooperation with the FCC. The reorganization also transferred functions related to planning and development of the communications satellite system. The Secretary of Commerce became the President’s principal adviser on telecommunications policy (thereafter delegated, along with the functions of the OT, to the Administrator of NTIA, Assistant Secretary for Communications) and the NTIA was charged with telecommunications research and development, acting as a liaison between the Executive Branch and the FCC. In 1992, the NTIA Organization Act of 1992 codified NTIA's authority in detail and incorporated its organizational structure into statute.
Prior to Congress’s enactment of the Radio Act in 1927, anyone could set up a radio station, and disputes arising over interference would be settled in or out of court. Herbert Hoover, who was the Secretary of Commerce at the time, worked with commercial broadcasters who were dissatisfied with the amount of competition in the industry to initiate the Act, which created the Federal Radio Commission, predecessor to the FCC, and nationalized spectrum (the range of frequencies of electromagnetic radiation, or radio waves). Since then, spectrum has been controlled by the Federal government, which licenses its use “in the public interest.” The Communications Act of 1934 transferred the FRC responsibilities to the FCC.
In 1989 the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) helped develop spectrum auctions and introduced computerized electronic bidding to the FCC licensing process. President Bill Clinton authorized the use of license auctions in 1993.
According to some critics of federal spectrum management policy, the history of licensing policy has been propagated on the myth that spectrum is scarce, while in reality the artificial shortage was created by the government’s limited licensing to curb competition.
Today, a boom in the use of new technological developments (cell phones, BlackBerries, PDAs, 3G, etc.) is causing demand for the limited use of spectrum, placing the NTIA, the FCC, and Congress at the center of heated policy and legal battles.
While the FCC regulates the private sector use of spectrum, the NTIA administers government use, which is also increasing—law enforcement, Department of Defense, intelligence, and military, etc.
For more information on Spectrum management and policy history, including legal/legislative issues, see Spectrum Issues in the Courts, Congress, and Federal Agencies.
The Public Telecommunications Facilities Program, which awards equipment grants to public telecommunications entities, was transferred to the NTIA from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1978. In 1990 Congress established the National Endowment for Children's Educational Television in the Commerce Department, and in 1993, the Telecommunications and Information Assistance Program in the NTIA.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is divided into line offices:
And Staff Offices:
Office of Policy Coordination and Management
Current issues of import include Broadband, Digital Literacy Initiative, Domain Names, Infrastructure Security, Internet, Media, Minority Telecommunications Development, Federal and State and Local Rights-of-Way, Spectrum and Wireless.
The agency’s policy division (OPAD) makes recommendations in areas such as media (e.g., radio, television, cable); wireless communications and radio spectrum policy; wireline competition; the Internet; domain names, and electronic commerce (pdf); new advanced broadband networks; and public interest issues related to telecommunications and information services.
OPAD conducts research on policy issues, drafts letters and formal comments to the Federal Communications Commission and prepares analysis and testimony in the legislative process.
In line with general U.S. development goals, the NTIA foreign policy advocates liberalization and deregulation in telecommunications. The NTIA has worked with the World Trade Organization on international telecommunications agreements, and represents the interest of the Department of Defense and the U.S. private sector in foreign negotiations over radio spectrum.
The radio spectrum is a shared resource between the NTIA and the FCC: the former agency is the national authority responsible for managing federal government spectrum (assigning radio frequencies to agencies such as the Department of Defense and the Federal Aviation Association), while the latter manages state and local government and commercial (private sector) spectrum.
Both agencies coordinate with the Executive Branch and Interdepartment Radio Advisory Committee (IRAC) representatives to allocate the spectrum for radio services. The spectrum is thus divided between the federal government, state and local government and commercial entities, with the remaining portion designated for shared use, and jointly managed by both authorities.
International spectrum allocations influence allocation decisions within the U.S., but federal government and commercial interests usually take precedence. Congress also influences spectrum allocations through legislation.
By order of a 2010 Presidential Memorandum, the NTIA and the FCC are making available, during the course of the next decade, 500 megahertz of federal and nonfederal spectrum for mobile and fixed wireless broadband use. Various weather agencies opposed this, saying that the action could threaten the operation of global weather satellites. The Spectrum Defined
New Wireless Spectrum Auction Pegged for 2012? (by Jordan Richardson, thetelecomblog.com)
Digital Spectrum Auction Expected to Raise Billions for Treasury (Associated Press)
US Frequency Allocation Chart (The Radio Spectrum) (pdf)
Unusual Clash between Broadband Advocates and Weather Forecasters (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Spectrum Relocation for 3G
While new technologies such as 3G tend to make better, more efficient use of the spectrum, their commercial introduction in the last several years has raised demand for spectrum use and put pressure on the NTIA to relocate federal/military frequencies to make room for commercial operations. The agency moderated a battle between federal/military users and wireless carriers, auctioning off the spectrum after relocation.
NTIA estimates spectrum relocation to cost $1B: Good news for 3G auction bidders (by Heather Forsgren Weaver, RCR Wireless)
Also see Debate Section.
Domain Name System (DNS) Policy
“On July 1, 1997, as part of the Clinton Administration's Framework for Global Electronic Commerce, the President directed the Secretary of Commerce to privatize the domain name system (DNS) in a manner that increases competition and facilitates international participation in its management.
“Accordingly, on July 2, 1997, the Department of Commerce issued a Request for Comments (RFC) on DNS administration. The RFC solicited public input on issues relating to the overall framework of the DNS administration, the creation of new top-level domains, policies for domain name registrars, and trademark issues. During the comment period, more than 430 comments were received, amounting to some 1500 pages.…”
Read more of the Management of Internet Domain Names and Addresses policy statement.
From the Web Site of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration spent nearly $3.2 million on more than 40 contractor transactions between 2002 and 2012, according to USAspending.gov. The top five types of contractor services were IT and telecommunications systems analysis ($988,880) and development ($248,750) and miscellany ($190,841), electrical testing and measuring instruments ($877,002), and support/management ($138,933).
The top five recipients of NTIA contractor spending, along with the amounts paid and respective percentages of that spending during the period were:
1. Computer Sciences Corporation $988,880 (31%)
2. Agilent Technologies, Inc. $725,746 (23%)
3. RF Metrics Corporation $247,500 (8%)
4. The MIL Corporation $190,841 (6%)
5. ABT Associates Inc. $138,933 (4%)
Internet Domain Name Controversy
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) joined the chorus of concern that arose after ICANN, an independent body responsible for organizing the Internet, decided in January 2012 to expand the number of possible Web site addresses.
ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), which decides who manages .com, .net and other domains, planned in January to accept applications for an expanded number of Web domain options. This decision upset many corporations already worried about trademark violations on the Internet.
Lawrence Strickling, the NTIA’s administrator, urged ICANN to take action to minimize the need for what was called defensive registrations.
“In meetings we have held with industry over the past weeks, we have learned that there is tremendous concern about the specifics of the program that may lead to a number of unintended and unforeseen consequences and could jeopardize its success,” Strickling wrote in a letter to ICANN. Industry fears included more cybersquatting and trademark violations.
Strickling also recommended that ICANN do a better job of identifying who controls particular Web sites, in order to help law enforcement hunt down those who break the law.
US Gov't Official: ICANN GTLD Plan Should Move Forward (by Grant Gross, IDG News Service)
With ICANN’s Controversial Decision to Expand the Number of Generic TopLevel Domains; Is Your Domain Name Safe? (Tannenbaum Helpern Syracuse & Hirschtritt LLP)
ICANN Can – and Will – Open the Doors for New Domain Names Thursday (by Mark J. Miller, Brand Channel)
Testimony of Associate Administrator Alexander on ICANN’s Expansion of Top Level Domains (National Telecommunications and Information Administration)
NTIA Chief OKS NBC/Comcast Merger Then Lands Job At Comcast
Meredith Attwell Baker, one-time head of the NTIA, raised eyebrows in 2011 from both communications advocates and a conservative Republican for leaving the Obama administration to accept an executive post at Comcast-NBC Universal.
What made Baker’s move so concerning was that it came only months after she helped approve the controversial merger between the cable giant and the network while serving on the board of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
The group Free Press called Baker’s departure from the FCC a “blatant example of a so-called public servant cashing in at a company she is supposed to be regulating.”
Free Press also praised Representative Darrell Issa (R-California), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, for publicly questioning Baker’s move.
“Based on the public statements of both Commissioner Baker and the FCC, it does not appear that she violated any of her legal or ethical obligations in accepting a position with Comcast,” Issa wrote in the letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. “Nevertheless, because only a short time has passed since the Comcast-NBC Universal merger, it is imperative that the public can trust the integrity of the process.”
Baker was nominated to the FCC by President Barack Obama in 2009, after running the NTIA under President George W. Bush.
Rep. Darrell Issa probes FCC Baker’s departure to Comcast (by Eric Dolan, Raw Story)
FCC Regulator To Join Comcast After OK Of NBC Deal (The 1 Percent)
Comcast hires FCC's Meredith Attwell Baker for NBCUniversal unit (by Joe Flint, Los Angeles Times)
FCC Commissioner's Move To Comcast Shows The Revolving Door Is Still Spinning (by Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times)
Expansion of Internet Use
With still nearly a third of American households lacking broadband, the NTIA issued a report in 2011 discussing where the country needs to expand access to high-speed Internet use.
After surveying 54,000 households and 129,000 persons, the NTIA found about 68% of U.S. homes use broadband access. That meant more than 30% were still relying on dial-up connections or had no access whatsoever to the Web.
“Significant gaps in Internet usage still exist among certain demographic and geographic groups around the country,” the NTIA wrote in its report.
The agency found college-educated people adopt broadband at almost triple the rate of those with some high school education (84% versus 30%), among adults 25 years and older. Also, Caucasians (68%) and Asians (69%) were far more likely to have high-speed Internet than Blacks (50%) and Hispanics (45%). In terms of cities versus the countryside, 70% of urban areas enjoyed broadband, while only 60% of rural America had it.
Given these disparities, President Barack Obama announced a National Wireless Initiative, with the goal of having 98% of Americans possessing access to high-speed wireless services (4G) within five years.
Digital Nation (National Telecommunications and Information Administration)
Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) Reform
The Center for Regulatory Effectiveness
Internet Domain Names: Background and Policy Issues (CRS Report to Congress) (pdf)
The NTIA came out in 2011 in favor of protecting the personal data of Internet users, but remained non-committal about endorsing do-not-track provisions.
Lawrence Strickling, head of NTIA, told a congressional panel that it was time to go beyond voluntary codes of conduct for data companies and advertisers, something the Obama administration had previously supported.
Strickling endorsed creating a bill of rights for Internet users with legally enforceable standards for the collection and sale of personal data gathered from Internet use.
It was unclear if the NTIA was willing to support the Federal Trade Commission’s plan to establish a do-not-track regulation that would bar online companies from collecting consumers’ online shopping habits and selling them to marketers.
The NTIA had previously said that it had concerns about a do-not-track mechanism. Allowing consumers to turn off Internet tracking is opposed by the $23 billion online advertising industry.
Public Comments Regarding Information Privacy and Innovation in the Internet Economy (Technology Policy Institute)
Senate Taking Early Lead In Privacy Debate (by Juliana Gruenwald, National Journal)
Policing Privacy on Web Debated (by Julia Angwin, Wall Street Journal)
Testimony of Assistant Secretary Strickling Regarding the State of Online Consumer Privacy (National Telecommunications and Information Administration)
Obama Administration Seeks Internet Privacy Bill (by Diana Bartz, Reuters)
Converting to Digital TV
U.S. television went all digital on June 12, 2009, but only after a long debate in Congress—which involved the NTIA—over the merits of such a dramatic move for the television industry.
Some critics complained that the transition from analog to digital would push small and low-power stations out of business, and alienate their often geographically or demographically remote audiences. Owners of small television stations often service rural populations or specific ones in urban areas not targeted by big broadcasters, and broadcast exclusively to viewers who use antennas to pick up the signal.
The Community Broadcasting Association, which represents low-power TV stations, claimed that there were tens of thousands of viewers in every major TV market who would be affected by the switch to digital. The organization also criticized the NTIA for not requiring manufacturers to require a “pass through” feature. The NTIA contended this requirement would raise the price for those who didn’t need it, and there were doubts whether or not this would cause interference on digital channels.
The NTIA’s program for helping consumers make the switch came under attack from Democrats for what they saw as a lack of coordination. Some lawmakers called for a task force or more centralized authority to oversee the process, while the NTIA insisted it had things under control.
In response to the issue of low-power stations, the NTIA decided to administer a program to assist the DTV transition called Low Power Television and Translator Assistance Programs, which reimbursed the cost of digital upgrade for low-power stations and translator stations (which rebroadcast the programs of full-power stations to areas too distant or cut off by mountainous terrain). The NTIA also gave low-power stations until September 1, 2015 to complete the conversion.
On the conservative front, Republicans and others complained about subsidizing broadcast TV while the digital transition was taking place.
The Converter-Box-Coupon Czar: Q&A with NTIA’s Baker (by John Eggerton, Broadcasting & Cable)
Senate Commerce Leaders Back DTV Task Force (by John Eggerton, Broadcasting & Cable)
No TV Left Behind: Digital Transition Subsidies for Basement Televisions? (by James L. Gattuso, Heritage Foundation)
Low-Power TV Stations Worry About Digital Switch (by John Dunbar, Associated Press)
Digital switchover may hamper small TV stations (Wisconsin State Journal)
Controversy over Broadband Mapping
When the Obama White House approved $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus funding, the NTIA found itself smack dab in the middle of a controversy.
With billions of dollars at stake, telecommunications firms saw the broadband initiative as a way to make a lot of money. Meanwhile, consumer advocates worried over how the federal funding would be distributed.
Among the stimulus monies was $350 million for broadband mapping—a task entrusted to the NTIA to provide an online map that would be “interactive and searchable.” While the NTIA worked on figuring out how to develop a broadband map, two-dozen organizations said they didn’t want Connected Nation involved.
Connected Nation was an industry-created group dedicated to public-private partnerships that would expand high-speed Internet availability in the U.S. The organization, which is criticized for accepting public funds so that it can collect information that it then keeps private (that, in turn, calls into question, the ability to verify its mapping data), features a board of directors that included telecom executives from Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T.
Reform Groups Blast Telco-Backed Broadband Mapper (by Matthew Lasar, Ars Technica)
The Politics of Broadband Mapping (by Anna Henry, Rural Telecom)
3G Spectrum Waivers [link sent to Noel]
NTIA’s waiver policy could undermine secure communication plans (by Jeffrey Silva, RCR Wireless News)
Concentration of Ownership in the Media
The NTIA has worked with the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission on problems related to an increasing concentration of ownership in media and telecommunications industries. In 1996 Congress enacted the Telecommunications Act of 1996 after the Justice Department’s antitrust suit against AT&T and the breakup of the company’s monopoly. The 1996 legislation aimed at creating more competition in local telephone service. The development of the Internet, cable and wireless services, as well as new technologies, poses new questions about competition regulation in the industry. So far no major legislative action has been taken.
Competition versus Regulation: “Mediating Between Right and Right” in the Wireless and Wireline Telephone Industries (by Benjamin Douglas Arden, Federal Communications Law Journal) (pdf)
With the advent of the digital age and skyrocketing demand for wireless communications, enormous pressure has come to bear on the U.S. radio spectrum (the electromagnetic waves that carry radio signals).
To resolve this issue, two different bills were introduced in the U.S. Senate in 2011. The Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act, co-sponsored by Democrat Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, sought a comprehensive solution to several spectrum-related stalemates and crises.
The bill included a provision requiring the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to identify key blocks of underutilized federal spectrum allocations and make them available for auction by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Another bill, the Reforming Airwaves by Developing Incentives and Opportunistic Sharing (RADIOS) Act, was introduced by Senators Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and John Kerry (D-Massachusetts). The legislation was intended to promote better use of wireless spectrum, while maintaining the FCC and the NTIA’s authority to allocate spectrum. The bill also would have released more spectrum for broadband use through voluntary incentive auctions.
Spectrum Reform Now! (by Larry Downes, The Technology Liberation Front)
Democratic and Republican Senators Urge Smart, Inclusive Spectrum Reform (Senator John Kerry)
Senators Urge Common Sense Approach for Spectrum Management Reform (Radio Resource Media Group)
NTIA’s waiver policy could undermine secure communication plans (by Jeffrey Silva, RCR Wireless News)
Broadband Policy Reform
The FCC unveiled various recommendations in 2010 for implementing the National Broadband Plan. The provisions addressed pole attachments, spectrum, cyber security, and the survivability of communications networks, as well as changes to the Universal Service Fund (USF) that could potentially increase the USF fees paid by utilities and others.
Following that, the NTIA informed local first responders to not begin individual public safety broadband projects in the 700 Megahertz range spectrum.
The NTIA made this decision following the adoption of a new law that reallocated a 10 MHz swath of 700 MHz spectrum, known as the D block, to public safety, which called for terminating local licenses already in that range.
Reform Scenarios And Potential Financial Impacts (The Federal-State Joint Board
On Universal Service)
FCC Announces Ambitious Agenda to Implement Changes to National Broadband Plan (by Kevin M. Cookler, Shirley S. Fujimoto and Jeffrey L. Sheldon, McDermott Will & Emery)
NTIA: Public Safety Broadband Network Must Not Be A 'Network Of Networks' (by David Perera, FierceGovernment IT)
John M. R. Kneuer
Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information (Administrator of the NTIA)
A member of the District of Columbia Bar, Kneuer received his BA and JD degrees from the Catholic University of America. Kneuer served as an Attorney-Advisor in the Commercial Wireless Division of the Federal Communications Commission's Wireless Bureau, and from 1997-1998, as the Executive Director for Government Relations at the Industrial Telecommunications Association. He served as a Senior Associate at the law firm of Piper Rudnick in Washington D.C., providing regulatory and legislative representation to corporate clients in the telecommunications, defense, and transportation industries. Kneuer joined NTIA in October 2003 and was nominated by President George W. Bush on May 1, 2006, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate on December 9, 2006, to be Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and Administrator of the NTIA. Kneuer resigned in November 2007.
NTIA Head John Kneuer Exiting Post: National Telecommunications & Information Administration Names Meredith Baker Acting Administrator (by John Eggerton, Broadcasting & Cable)
A technology policy expert with more than two decades of experience in the public and private sectors, Lawrence E. Strickling has served as Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information in the Department of Commerce since June 25, 2009, putting him in charge of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.