Davidson sticks landing to become new NTIA chief

The U.S. Senate confirmed Alan Davidson as the new head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), installing a new leader for the agency as it begins the process of distributing billions in federal funding for broadband.

Davidson was approved by a vote of 60-31, making him the agency’s first permanent chief since David Redl left the post in May 2019. His appointment comes nearly a year after President Joe Biden took office and two and a half months after his nomination for the post. Jessica Rosenworcel was tapped to lead the Federal Communications Commission at the same Davidson was nominated and was installed in December.

Rosenworcel congratulated Davidson in a statement. “Among other things, I look forward to working together on spectrum policy that reflects our national priorities and offering support as NTIA prepares to distribute the largest broadband infrastructure investment in our nation’s history,” she said. “Working together, I am confident we can make progress on delivering innovative, modern communications that reach everyone, everywhere.”

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Her comments echo Davidson’s own sentiments. Upon his nomination in October, Davidson said “we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to close the Digital Divide, make the best use of our airwaves and build a better Internet for all.”

At the NTIA, Davidson will oversee the agency’s efforts to dole out $48.2 billion of the $65 billion Congress recently allocated for broadband as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Earlier this month, NTIA began the process of establishing rules for several grant programs through which the money will be funneled.

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NTIA also manages federal government use of spectrum, meaning Davidson will likely play a key role in efforts to free up more airwaves for 5G. He may also find himself drawn into to a dispute between the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and operators over use of C-band spectrum, though it seems a temporary solution has been reached.   

The new NTIA chief comes to the role from a position as a senior advisor at the Mozilla Foundation, a nonprofit focused on promoting an open internet. He previously served as the first director of digital economy at the Department of Commerce under President Barak Obama. He was also director of New America’s Open Technology Institute from 2014-2015 and director of public policy for Google in the Americas from 2005 to 2012.

Industry response

Davidson’s confirmation was met with a parade of congratulations from telecom companies and industry groups including the Wireless Internet Service Provider Association (WISPA), NATE, NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, WifiForward, Telecommunications Industry Association, Competitive Carriers Association (CCA), Frontier Communications and INCOMPAS.

CCA CEO Steven Berry noted in a statement Davidson’s position is “critically important” given “many decisions made at NTIA directly impact competitive carriers, particularly as NTIA works to implement broadband provisions from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and coordinate spectrum issues to support 5G services. CCA is pleased that someone with his experience and vast industry knowledge is stepping into the role.”

Elsewhere, WISPA CEO Claude Aiken hailed Davidson as “a strong proponent of ensuring that all broadband technologies can apply for federal funding programs to reach the unserved. This is more important than ever, with so much of this nation’s prosperity connected to reliable, robust and universally available internet connectivity.”