The 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 NTIA and the FCC, NTIA is faced with the challenge of balancing federal use of spectrum with growing demand for spectrum use in the private sector.
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.
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 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 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 NTIA helped develop spectrum auctions and introduced computerized electronic bidding to the FCC licensing process. President Clinton authorized the used 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 NTIA, the FCC and Congress at the center of heated policy and legal battles.
While the FCC regulates the private sector use of spectrum, NTIA administers government use, which is also increasing—law enforcement, Department of Defense, intelligence and military, etc.
The Public Telecommunications Facilities Program, which awards equipment grants to public telecommunications entities, was transferred to 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 NTIA.
The agency is divided into line offices:
· Institute for Telecommunications Sciences (ITS)
: NTIA’s research and engineering laboratory, providing tech support (for industry development, domestic competition, US industry trade opportunities, spectrum management, etc.). Principal Federal resource for investigating telecom “challenges” in other Fed agencies, state and local governments, private corporations and associations and international organizations.
· Office of Telecommunications and Information Applications (OTIA)
: Administers the Technology Opportunities Program (TOP)—which provides matching grants to non-profits, state and local governments for “innovative application” in the industry; and the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program (PTFP), which administers equipment grants to public broadcasting/noncommercial entities.
And Staff Offices:
Office of Policy Coordination and Management
The agency’s policy division (OPAD) makes recommendations in areas such as “media (e.g., radio, television, cable);wireless services and radio spectrum management; wireline competition; the Internet; domain names, and electronic commerce; 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 legislative the legislative process.
In line with general US development goals, NTIA foreign policy advocates liberalization and deregulation in telecommunications. NTIA has worked with the World Trade Organization on international telecommunications agreements, and represents the interest of the Department of Defense and the US private sector in foreign negotiations over radio spectrum.
The radio spectrum is a shared resource between 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 US, but Federal government and commercial interests usually take precedence. Congress also influences spectrum allocations through legislation.
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 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.
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.…”
NTIA - E-Commerce Encyclopedia
Converting to Digital TV
US television is set to go all-digital February 18, 2009, and the NTIA is required under the DTV Act (2005) to provide $40 coupons for eligible households to buy digital-to-analog converter boxes (to “convert down” digital broadcast signals for display on analog television sets). According to the NTIA, “The converter boxes are necessary for consumers who wish to continue receiving broadcast programming over the air using analog-only televisions after February 18, 2009—the date that full-power televisions stations are required to cease analog broadcasting. Without converter boxes, consumers with analog-only television sets will be unable to view full-power television broadcasts unless they purchase digital television sets or subscribe to cable or satellite service.”
The United States government has pledged up to $1.5 billion to provide over 33 million coupons. The NTIA began distributing coupons on January 1, 2008 and subsequently announced that it had received requests for more than 2.4 million coupons by January 9, 2008.
The agency awarded a contract to IBM to administer the program, for a total of $119,986,468 (which includes $84,990,343 for the initial phase and $34,978,125 for a contingent phase provided for in the DTV Act).
In the first phase of the converter box coupon program, any US resident (household) can order 2 coupons ($40 each) to buy an approved digital-to-analog converter box.
Industries most affected by the transition (broadcast, cable and consumer electronics) have launched marketing campaigns to inform viewers, subscribers and customers about the transition date and options consumers have to respond to it—including the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) $200 million campaign to raise consumer awareness.
Some have raised concerns that the transition will push small and low-power stations out of business, and alienate their often geographically or demographically remote audiences. Small television station owners 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 Congressional mandate (DTV Act) only applies to the roughly 1,760 “full-power” stations in the US. However, there are almost 3,000 low-power TV stations and more than 4,000 signal-relay stations known as “translators,” which rebroadcast full-power station programming to areas too distant or cut off by mountainous terrain. Neither of the latter types of stations will be required to go digital by the NTIA deadline of February 2009.
Most of the boxes certified by NTIA for sale will block low-power signals if they’re still broadcast in analog format, presenting a problem for viewers receiving both high- and low-power signals. There is a “pass through” feature for converter boxes that would convert digital signals but allow analog to transmit unmodified.
The Community Broadcasting Association, which represents low-power TV stations, claims that there are tens of thousands of viewers in every major TV market who will be affected by the issue, and criticizes the NTIA for not requiring manufacturers to require the “pass through” feature. The NTIA contends this would raise the price for those who don’t need it, and there is a question as to whether or not it would cause interference on digital channels.
NTIA’s administration of the DTV program - its biggest mission to date - has taken heat from Democrats for what they see as a lack of coordination. Some have called for a task force or more centralized authority to oversee the process, while the NTIA has maintained that coordination of the program is under control.
Criticism from the Democrats:
From the right, critics complain about subsidizing broadcast TV during the switch:
And some are concerned with the transition pushing out small broadcasters and alienating rural/minority viewers:
3G Spectrum Waivers
Concentration of Ownership in the Media
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.
Minority Commercial Broadcast Ownership Overview
John M. R. Kneuer
A member of the District of Columbia Bar, Kneuer received his B.A. and J.D. 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 Dec. 9, 2006, to be Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and Administrator of the NTIA. Kneuer resigned in November 2007.
Annual Budget: $589 million (FY 2008)
Employees: About 300
National Telecommunications and Information Administration
Previous Acting Assistant Administrator