Cantwell Opening Remarks at Spectrum and National Security Hearing

March 21, 2024

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, delivered the following opening remarks at today’s hearing on how a coordinated and comprehensive approach to domestic spectrum policy is critical to U.S. national security. Read the testimonies and watch the hearing live here.

Chair Senator Cantwell’s Opening Statement As Delivered: VIDEO

Good morning, the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will come to order. This morning, we’re having a hearing on spectrum and national security. I appreciate the witnesses being here today.

Today’s hearing will focus on the interrelationship of these two critical factors—spectrum auction authority and national security—and getting a plan to move forward.

Foreign adversary access to Americans’ data is a real and growing concern. We must act to shut the back door to protect Americans.

We are seeing this conversation around applications on our devices. And we need to consider the national security of communication networks themselves.

That network relies on spectrum. Whether it is cell phones in our pockets, connected devices in our homes, critical defense systems in our military, radar and satellites for aviation, weather infrastructure—spectrum—[is an] essential component of a modern communications system.

Spectrum is a finite resource, which means policymakers must ensure and manage it effectively to benefit all Americans. Last year—after 30 years of consensus that auctions were a key part of spectrum management—the FCC’s spectrum auction authority expired for the first time.

We want to renew that. We want to look at that today and discuss the outer bands—the 12ghz and 37 and AWS—and what we can do to make sure spectrum is made available now to continue to increase capacity, expand the opportunities for new technology in IOT, and leverage the opportunities for areas that aren’t covered today to grow our economy of the future. 

We must also ensure that spectrum is managed—and our national security colleagues have been in a very active debate with us over these issues – that we are expanding this capacity for innovation. The private sector and the defense sector both need to advance. They need to advance successfully and the United States must be the leader in spectrum management technology and security. 

We have seen first-hand the threats our foreign adversaries pose to our domestic telecommunications networks. For example, the presence of unsecure equipment from Huawei and ZTE, and [how that impacts] our key domestic military installations [and] impacted our communities.

Rural providers across the nation, including in my home state, are having to replace unsecure equipment costing billions of dollars.

As development begins on next generation wireless networks, it is critical that the United States takes a unified approach and continue to have the best spectrum policies in the world.

It is clear that spectrum policy has often been the subject of interagency disputes, and that too, with the report that was published by NTIA and DOD on dynamic spectrum sharing moved the discussion to a new level, but more needs to be done.

The domestic approach to spectrum management, built on collaboration, will allow the United States to continue to lead on the international front. The FCC, NTIA, NASA, DOD and others must work together to ensure that we continue to work openly and collectively.

Spectrum management must also embrace innovation—like Open RAN, which we will hear more about today—which will allow telecom providers to use secure, competitive networks.

And innovation must expand spectrum access…with technologies like dynamic spectrum [sharing] to harness opportunities.

Only [through] collaborative spectrum management and technological innovation, I believe, can we create a true pipeline. That’s what we really want to do. We want to get what we can get now, and get it in place, and continue to grow the opportunities. A sustainable, responsible vision will allow us to move forward on both our private sector and our DOD missions. 

For this to happen we must restore the FCC’s spectrum auction authority, and our strategy should include all approaches on unlicensed and licensed spectrum.

Today’s hearing is about national security element of that. Clearly, once we address that, hopefully we can get our colleagues to focus on how to make these priorities a reality and create that kind of pipeline that will allow us to deal with some of our necessary issues for us to grow this security for the future.