Yeah, excellent. So as the My kind introduction mentioned, my name is NANCY SCOLA, I'm a journalist based here in DC, who covers technology, politics, public policy. And as we sit here today, it's a pretty consequential time in those fields. We're just over two years into a Biden administration that is really starting to put its stamp on telecommunications and technology, including through some massive multibillion dollar programs, some of which we'll talk about today. And the question for us is what will that mean for the United States and for the world in five years and 100 years, and we've pretty much the perfect person to discuss that with today. Alan, thank you so much for being here.
It's great to be here. Thank you for being here, Alan.
So let's just dive in. If you will indulge me in a little bit of history, NTIA has been around for 45 years now, that as long as I've been around, but the law creating it says it exists to promote the benefits of technological development in the United States, and act as the executive branch agency primarily responsible for advising the president on Telecommunications and Information policies. I've spoken with one of your predecessors as an AI administrator preparing for this panel. And this person said, quote, the remit of the administrator role is so broad, it means whatever you want it to mean, what does it mean to you? I
wish that were true. So what does it mean to me? So I think the key point to underline there is we serve as the President's Principal Advisor on Telecommunications and Information Policy. And that means a whole bunch of different things. Part of it is really operational for us. And so we have a couple of big roles which mentioned, first and foremost, connecting everybody in America with high speed Affordable Internet service we've gotten administering $50 billion in in federal funding for out of the bipartisan infrastructure law, we have a big role on spectrum, and coordinating federal spectrum. It's a big operational role, as well as thinking about spectrum policy and making sure that we have a spectrum pipeline that makes sure that everybody has access to spectrum, and then advising on policy, both domestically and internationally. And for me, I think that's actually one of the most exciting growth areas. For NTIA, this whole conference is about this. There's a growing need for more insight and more engagement on the big policy issues that now affects so many people in society, and NTIA has a central role in thinking about privacy, competition, sin disinformation, cybersecurity, and emerging technology.
And you're 13 You've been in office 13 months so far, how far 14 Almost 14, How far along are you in creating the NTIA that you want the agency to be on your 20% along the way, 80% along the way, somewhere in between,
maybe somewhere in between, I have to say it's been an amazing year, a huge year of growth for NTIA, when I came on we there was a lot of growth needed. So part of that is in our broadband work, but part of an other parts of it that just needed to be that we needed to refresh the ranks. A third of NTIA is brand new since I started in January of last year, so a third new so that's like a startup in government, it is really unusual to hire a third of your organization brand new. So we are growing and we continue to grow. And I'm really excited for the coming year, because last year was a big growth year, this year, we can really act we have the team in place and we can start executing.
Okay. And a big reason for that growth, as you mentioned, is this broadband money that you've been gifted that you have oversight over some $40 billion plus, which is a good amount of money even for the United States government. The idea is to build out Affordable, Effective broadband connections for everyone living the United States of America. Why did I'm gonna ask a very sort of simple layperson question, why does that remain difficult?
We're a big country. And I think that, you know, we've been talking about the digital divide in this country for over 2025 years, right. And yet, we find ourselves in a place where literally millions and millions of American households still do not have basic adoption of the Internet, right. So they don't have access, or they don't have the tools or the skills they need to get online. So we've been talking about it for 20 years, we finally have the resources and a lot of it at NTIA, our sister agencies as well to finally do something structural about it. And that is a really, really big deal. It's hard, hard work, because some of it is about really building broadband out to the high speed Internet out to the places that need it. Some of it is about increasing adoption. We've had some real big successes already gave out $1.7 billion last year in grants to tribal communities. The Vice President was in South Carolina just last week announcing our Connecting minority communities grants. But the thing I'll say about this, and we don't really talk about I've been coming to stay in that for a long time. It tends to be a kind of more policy oriented conference. We haven't spent a lot of time I feel like in recent years talking about like how we do connectivity, or as much as I think we should. I'm just here to say this is a big moment. We are not going to get 10s of billions of dollars to do this again, right? Like, this is our shot at getting everybody connected. And we need a lot of help. And I really do feel like this is like generations before us connected everybody with water and electricity in America, they connected, we build the interstate highway system. And this is our this is our generations big infrastructure project, right? This is our chance to connect everybody in the country with what they need to thrive in the modern digital economy. And we're going to need everybody's help to do that. So I just my probably biggest plead today is be engaged in this conversation, because it is a big deal. It's the next couple of years, and then it won't happen again.
Quick question. And you mentioned it being a big country. And obviously, as you were recently in Alaska, doing sort of fact finding to figure out this sort of stay abroad man there one, just very quickly, what did you come away knowing that you didn't know going into that?
It's a huge challenge, but people are really into it. And I kind of had originally had this conception that like, you know, people didn't even really know what they were missing. I was in this village on the tribal community on the banks of the Yukon River, you can only get there by boat or plane, I was sitting, talking to a 60 year old grandmother who lived in this village her entire life. And I was sort of like, what are you you know, thinking like, what are you using the Internet? 40? What do you think you might use the Internet for she could cite me exactly how much per gigabit she pays in overage charges right now, for this little 30 bank a bit. connection that they share among 200 people that comes in over a microwave and doesn't really work that well in the winter. So it's not that people have no idea. They're very sophisticated, they want this and it's going to transform their lives. And that's what she said to me that the difference between having this tiny little connection that she pays $700 a month for, versus the gigabit per second connection that we are going to provide when we run fiber up the Yukon River, which we're doing is going to be transformative for that village. And it's going to be transformative for people. And that's the biggest thing I came up with. So
you have this vision, the President has set out this vision Congress has set out this vision, it's up to you now to make some difficult decisions about how you actually build out to all those places that don't currently have high quality broadband. One of the points of debate right now is this by America, by American provision. The President in the State of Union said pretty clearly, when we build out these projects, we're going to buy American, you follow that up with a blog post saying in the past administrations have we've had the law since 1933, saying we have to be American when it comes to these projects. past administrations have ignored that we want people in the telecom world that are looking at that and saying really, does he mean it? They're trying to figure out how serious you are about that?
Well, the President made it pretty clear, we're pretty serious. We're pretty serious. And we're going to look at a case by case. But I think the key thing is, you know, he said very explicitly about fiber and fiber optic cable. And we do believe that industry is stepping up building the manufacturing capability that we need and want. At the end of the day. This is about in addition to connectivity. It's also about incentivizing American more American jobs, more American manufacturing. We know and we've offered waivers before in some of these programs that telecommunications networks are high. But I think what you heard is that the bar is going to be high
for those waivers. But if it delays the project three years,
the bar is high, but not impossible. Okay.
Let's switch gears a little bit to what we do with the Internet, once we actually have a connection, you've started engaging, and TIA is starting to engage in on the privacy debate that's been going on for a long time. You as everyone in this room probably well knows that Congress has struggled to pass any sort of, you know, comprehensive privacy legislation. In the absence of that. What leverage does an agency like NTI have over a company say like Google, where you spent seven years? If they don't have that sort of legislation hanging over them? How much leverage do you really have?
Well, I think there's a couple of different pieces to it. I think there are real enforcement opportunities. And you see the FTC for example, out with its advanced notice of proposed rulemaking, we filed comments in that we have a view. And I think the starting point for this is just as the President said in his Wall Street Journal article in the State of the Union, we need stronger privacy protections for people everywhere in the country. And federal privacy legislation is the right place for us to be in the end. In the meantime, we're going to do as much as we can to shine light on the problems that are out there, push for greater enforcement and ultimately support legislation as it comes along. One of the key things that we're doing at NTIA for example, is we've put out a request for comment on privacy equity and civil rights. So we're doing a real investigation into the civil rights and equity aspects of privacy what we've we have this request for comment is out and it's actually due today. So for those who didn't know about it, and it's still time Operators are standing by till midnight tonight. And but but the point is that the some of the, you know, the harms of privacy and security vulnerabilities are sort of most starkly felt by our most vulnerable communities. And so the elderly, the poor somewhere and minority communities really feel these harms. And we need to be lifting up those issues and trying to get our enforcers and Congress to do something about
one of the questions in that request for comment was, is privacy the right thing to call it? When we talk about this sort of like equity and civil rights implications of scraping photos off the Internet? For some facial recognition engine? Maybe that's not a privacy concern anymore? Is it the right thing to call it? Or do we need a new sort of framework for thinking about this?
Well, I still may be old school, I kind of believe that privacy is still something that people understand and actually do care about. Some of this is maybe starts to feel like ownership is an interesting example, or is this property is my data? You know, it's my data, my choice. You know, but I do think my experience, actually, as a parent, for example, is that the kids today do actually care about their privacy, they care about it differently than maybe some of us in this room grew up caring about it, but they're very attuned to who knows what about them, who sees what in the post that they do. And we need to make sure that everybody's got the tools that a lot of these kids are developing to manage themselves, their presence online. And then we also need to take this, it's not, should not be on consumers to figure this out. A lot of this needs to be on business. And a lot of this needs to be about making sure we've got rules of the road that we've been lacking for years.
Let's shift gears a little bit talk about the global role role that NTIA has. There was recently a an effort on the part of the US to install somebody at the head of the International Telecommunications Union, who was an American who actually entail NTIA
along NTIA alumna Dorian Boggs and Martin It was started her career at NTIA so so it was a we got an envelope in the back, what's that there was a whirlpool.
She back then, there was it was not a sure thing that the American candidate would sort of win that election, the Russian candidate was sort of like the putting up a good fight, how to you are pretty intimately involved in that effort? How did you actually achieve victory there?
You know, I think it was the forces of lightness and truth. It was an important election. And I think it was important on two different levels at the end, you know, the big picture was, you know, we're really this, the ITU is an important international body. And there's been a real open question about its direction and whether it would become a tool for some of the more closed and repressive societies to start to regulate the Internet more, make the Internet more closed, more authoritarian. And you had this great American candidate during Bogdan Martin running against a Russian candidate who was a former Huawei executive is sort of like straight out of central casting for us in terms of
in the dorkiest.
Superhero. Yeah, and but, you know, so I think it was a bit of a proxy for the future of the ITU. And then at the end of the day, it was also about this candidate, or greenbug, Martin, who's an incredible leader, has a long history at the ITU promoting development of communications around the world, and the first woman to be elected as head of the ITU in 157 years, which is kind of crazy. So I will say the US government put a lot of energy into that this campaign with other governments, private industry and civil society stepped up to, and in the end, I was I was in Bucharest, in the room when the vote happened. And I mean, for a lot of people who've been involved in it for a long time. It was an emotional, it was an emotional moment, to see, to see that choice made about its future, but also to see a woman I think for, for a lot of folks from a lot of countries, that was an incredibly meaningful thing to finally see that historic pick. And people were I mean, it was emotional in the room. So I'm glad we were able to do it. And now the ITU is in. It's in great hands. There's a great leadership team there. And I think Dorian has a real vision for how the ITU can help connect the next billion people online.
So I think we have time for one more before coffee break. Okay. You have arguably a unique perspective in the DC tech and telecom world in that you've served in industry, in government in civil society in pretty like high level capacities in each of those. When you look at the you know, clearly the country has struggled a bit on federal privacy legislation, advancing some of the, you know, even agreed upon vision that people have in this country for tech and telecom. If you sort of had a magic wand to recreate from scratch the federal policymaking apparatus and the role that civil society industry and government play. You know, this is a big question for the last 30 seconds. What are we doing well, what should we be doing differently?
That's a big question. I'd say the starting point has to be that the dream that we had 20 years ago or 30 years ago has actually come true in some ways the Internet has become the central medium, the essential communication medium of our time. And how do we make sure we're building our technology and our communications as a tool for human progress, right? How do we engage in this international conversation between the closed societies of the world and open societies world? How do we make sure we're building technologies of freedom and not technologies of control, and building our federal apparatus to take on those big questions as part of what we need to do to adjust to recognize, these are issues that now affect people in their everyday lives? I think we need more cross cutting structures that can think in a deeper way about the implications of the technology that we're building. And that can move more quickly to think about how we put the guardrails in place that will make allow us to innovate, but safely. How we think about the long game of implications, right? Like I think back 20, or 30 years ago, you know, we made some really good choices, I think about how we thought about the tech, the development of the Internet, including like embracing innovation, embracing free expression, giving people strong encryption tools to protect their privacy, those were real choices we made. At the same time, there were things we missed. And I think we didn't see, we didn't imagine we would find ourselves 20 years later without a privacy law. I don't think we saw what was going to happen with misinformation disinformation in the world? And how do we develop the capacity within government to think deeply about where technology is going, and also about the economic implications? Like, I look at artificial intelligence, think about job dislocations think about how that's going to affect a lot of our economic structures. So we need those deeper capacities that cut across, you could have a lot of debates about which where it should be built. We're trying to build a center of excellence at NTIA to think about these things. But I think I think back to my first job, my first policy job in Washington was at the Office of Technology Assessment, which doesn't exist anymore. But was this beautiful organization that brought together experts in technology and policy to think deeply about the implications of the choices we had about technology? We need more structures like that. And we need more people who can come into government who have this crossover, understand technology and public policy. You heard it already multiple times today. And we need more spectrum engineers, we need more data scientists, we're getting really good at service delivery, we still need that dual competency, that crossover of people who can speak technology and understand it and also understand public policy. And those people can come from lots of different walks of life, you people are those people. And so I just say we need your help. We need more people like all of you, and we need your engagement on all these big issues. And that's the biggest thing I think we need to do and federal government get more of that capacity.
Okay. Well, I don't it hasn't always been accurate to say you should keep an eye on NTIA in this space. should keep an eye on NTIA in this space. So thank you so much. I'm so good. Thank you