Keynote Address at the Americas Spectrum Management Conference

Ambassador Daniel A. Sepulveda
Deputy Assistant Secretary and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
Washington, DC
November 6, 2013

Thank you, Amit. For those of you visiting from abroad, welcome to Washington, D.C. I appreciate the opportunity to share our perspective and analysis with you today on the spectrum issues facing the region.

Spectrum is the life blood of today’s mobile world. Managing and using it effectively are critical to policy objectives from bridging the digital divide to creating a healthy environment for competition and innovation.

As a region, we are united in our goals: we all want broadband deployed in both urban and rural areas; we all want our kids to have broadband Internet access at their schools and libraries; we all want to see the advantages broadband can bring to healthcare; and we all want to see the prosperity that results from the ubiquitous availability of broadband technologies.

The Inter-American Development Bank reports that a 10 percent increase in the region’s broadband subscriptions will boost GDP growth by 3.19 percent and productivity by 2.6 percent. We believe that we should be able to meet that target as a region and the United States is doing its part.

Since 2009, nearly $250 billion in private capital has been invested in our wired and wireless broadband networks. As a result, residential broadband adoption has increased from less than 60percent in December 2008 to almost 72percent today. And average broadband speeds have nearly doubled. Similarly, mobile data traffic grew by over 1200percent from 2009 to 2013. And our markets are responding to that demand for wireless connectivity.

We lead the world in moving to 4G LTE. North America accounted for over 50% of the world’s 126 million LTE connections in mid-2013. And the growth in demand for LTE is accounting for almost a 20% market penetration in North America after just two years in the market.

All this investment activity is reaping rewards. Investment in wireless broadband infrastructure alone has created more than 1.6 million jobs in the United States since 2007; an estimated 500,000 of those were generated by the new “mobile apps” economy, a phenomenon that we believe can be replicated by other countries as well.

And we are focused on doing more. Fueled by greater demand for broadband services, the U.S. has adopted policies and taken action to foster an environment for even greater innovation and investment.

First, we found that defining national priorities through a national broadband plan can clarify short and long term goals for communications policy makers and regulators, as well as key government and industry stakeholders.

The FCC’s National Broadband Plan proposed policies that will promote competition, innovation, and investment; and seek efficient allocation of resources including spectrum and rights-of-way. The Plan is complemented by a number of Presidential directives, all designed to advance the U.S. broadband economy. These include a directive to allow and encourage shared access to spectrum that is currently allocated exclusively for Federal use; a directive to make available 500 MHz of spectrum for mobile broadband by 2020;an Executive Order to provide access to federal roads, land, and buildings for broadband infrastructure; a law signed by the President directing the FCC to conduct the world’s first incentive auctions to repurpose spectrum used by TV broadcasters for wireless broadband; and ConnectED, a Presidential initiative directing the federal government to make better use of existing funds to provide technology to classrooms and training to teachers.

Second, we made identifying and releasing available or underutilized spectrum to the market as quickly as possible a national priority. To keep pace with demand for broadband services, the FCC in late 2012 permitted Wireless Communications Service licensees to use a total of 30 MHz of underutilized spectrum in the 2.3 GHz band for wireless broadband services. The FCC also freed up additional spectrum for mobile broadband by adopting flexible use rules for 40 MHz of spectrum in the 2 GHz band that was previously assigned to Mobile Satellite Services. And the FCC created a new spectrum sharing paradigm by freeing up vacant spectrum between TV channels -- TV white spaces -- making it available for unlicensed broadband use. In March 2013, the FCC selected and approved white space database system administrators to begin providing nationwide roll-out of unlicensed TV white space devices.

Third, Congress, in early 2012, authorized the FCC to conduct incentive auctions, with the first auction to be of broadcast television spectrum. An incentive auction is a voluntary, market-based means of repurposing spectrum by encouraging existing broadcast television licensees to voluntarily relinquish spectrum usage rights in exchange for a share of the proceeds from an auction of new licenses to use the repurposed spectrum. The broadcast television spectrum incentive auction will be the first incentive auction ever attempted. It will be a groundbreaking event for the broadcast television, mobile wireless, and technology sectors of the U.S. economy.

That’s some of our progress on the spectrum side of the equation. On the deployment side, the FCC launched the Broadband Acceleration Initiative, which is a comprehensive effort to remove barriers to broadband infrastructure build-out. Elements include facilitating access to utility poles, promoting faster tower siting approvals, and allowing the use of smaller antennas in certain microwave bands to achieve significant cost savings by service providers.

Our future efforts will focus on further expanding networks, increasing speeds, boosting adoption, and improving connections of anchor institutions. And that’s only on the consumer side. On the business side, we look forward to seeing the realization of intelligent transportation systems in our cars, advancements in e-health and e-education and new civil uses for unmanned aerial systems. All of these improvements and innovation will require us to expertly manage our spectrum resources and utilize the best new engineering innovations you can devise.

Turning to the southern portion of our region and with apologies to our friends to the north, I want to talk for a minute about the notable gains and priorities for Latin America.

According to GSMA,over the past two years, mobile broadband connections in Latin America have grown by more than 100 million, crossing the 150 million connections mark in the second quarter of this year. Connections are expected to reach half a billion by the end of 2017. GSMA estimates that one in two connections in Latin America will be running on mobile broadband networks within the next three years.

Nearly all countries in the region employ 3G networks, and several, including Uruguay, have deployed 4G LTE mobile services. The popularity of social networks is also driving growth in a burgeoning smartphone market, and in 2012, for the first time, smartphone sales exceeded both feature phones and low cost phones in many countries, like Chile for example. Bandwidth and speeds have been increasing in most countries which can lead to lower prices for consumers.

Strides are also being made toward providing broadband service to schools. A recent UNESCO study noted several Caribbean countries report all primary and secondary schools have fixed broadband connections. Uruguay has provided fixed broadband to 95 percent of primary schools and 100 percent of secondary schools and Colombia reports 75 percent of primary and secondary schools have Internet connectivity.

While the region has made progress in the deployment and use of communications services over the last four years, we note that some countries in the Caribbean and Central America are experiencing less progress, particularly in access to Internet services. Pan-regionally, a substantial number still lack access to broadband connectivity. According to a USAID estimate, only 29 percent of the population in parts of the region has broadband access.

The United States is aware of the gap in access to broadband technologies and is committed to expanding the reach of broadband in the region and addressing the specific needs identified by those countries experiencing the least progress in our region. Going forward, we believe it is imperative to devise comprehensive ways to reverse this trend, particularly for countries in the Caribbean and in Central America.

Many developing countries have indicated that the most important issues to them are disaster relief and emergency communications, broadband development and technical training.

Events like Hurricane Sandy in the United States and the earthquake in Haiti demonstrate the critical role telecommunicationsplays in disaster prediction, mitigation, early warning, response, relief, and recovery. Our region has made modernizing public safety communications infrastructures to ensure connectivity and interoperability during disasters a priority. There is a growing understanding in the region of how to better enable information flow and two-way communication for populations in crisis. Though much has been done, we still have more to do. The United States looks forward to further collaborations across the region to share lessons learned and help enable greater preparedness.

Increasing access to broadband infrastructure, services, and applications has been among this region’s -- and indeed the world’s -- highest priorities for both developing and developed countries. Many countries in the region have developed or are developing broadband plans to guide domestic policies for increasing access to broadband services and promoting investment in networks. As we near the 15-year anniversary of the Millennium Development Goals, we note many targets have already been met but “accelerated progress is needed in many areas including access to broadband.” Considering the significant role played by telecommunications and ICTs to enable countries in the region to meet the MDGs, we support continued emphasis on broadband development agreed at the Fourth Ministerial Conference on the Information Society and the 2012 Summit of the Americas.

The U.S. is doing what we can to help. Last year at the Summit of the Americas President Obama announced the creation of the Broadband Partnership of the Americas to bring together federal governments, international donors, and the private sector from across the hemisphere to promote universal access to communications and broadband technologies as a tool for hemispheric competitiveness, development, and economic prosperity. And U.S. companies fund the United States Technical Training Institute, which this year provided 81 tuition-free training courses to professionals and government officials across the region.

In addition, senior communications officials from the U.S. Government play a critical role in supporting the U.S. Telecommunications Training Institute (USTTI) providing significant training as well as other in kind and scholarship support for USTTI participants. For over thirty years, the USTTI has offered at least 1,867 diverse training courses and graduated 8,774 women and men who are the key IT-communications regulators, managers, and service providers in 171 developing nations.

But the point of all our training and research work and regulatory and programmatic efforts to make more space available in the airwaves for broadband not just here at home, but abroad. It should be no surprise that that there was universal support for allocating additional spectrum for wireless broadband at the 2015 World Radiocommunication Conference. There was so much support for this agenda item, that WRC-15 was dubbed the “mobile broadband conference”, as early as meetings leading up to WRC-12.

Of course there is more to this conversation than LTE, which to date has been deployed by mobile operators through mutually exclusive spectrum licenses. In the U.S., we have realized the benefits of having both licensed and unlicensed spectrum available to our enterprises and entrepreneurs. In what was once fallow spectrum in bands well above frequencies useful to cellular networks, we find the Wi-Fi ecosystem of today. And those Wi-Fi networks are allowing carriers to offload some of their LTE traffic, creating a win-win situation. This, too, is a global phenomenon, with 18 of the world’s largest telcos by revenue now publicly committing to investing in deploying their own Wi-Fi networks.

Besides allocating spectrum for wireless broadband, we will be seeking to meet the needs of federal agencies at WRC-15, giving NASA greater flexibility in implementing its missions in space, enabling the control of unmanned aircraft systems to satisfy both civil and Department of Defense requirements, securing the regulatory structure and spectrum requirements for satellite systems, and enabling safety-related Intelligent Transport System applications like vehicular radars to enhance safety on the road.

We are making progress moving the Americas toward a shared vision where broadband fuels our economies and provides the connections to educate, inform and inspire our people. The continued development and success of our progress depends on how well we work together to manage and share our spectrum. And we believe that sharing depends on the willingness of all of us to work together, reveal information about our existing and planned operations and performance requirements, and perform the necessary technical studies to inform new sharing mechanisms.

As President Obama said and I quote --In the dynamism of our hemisphere, we’ve learned anew an old truth – as nations, as neighbors, we rise and fall together… In the Americas there are no senior or junior partners, we’re simply partners. That’s the spirit that’s allowed us to make progress in recent years.”

Thank you for your attention and thank you for your continued diligence in tending to our vital spectrum needs.