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Alan Davidson confirmed by Senate to head NTIA

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Alan Davidson confirmed by Senate to head NTIA

The White House's selection to manage various telecommunications, security and privacy priorities was confirmed this afternoon.

The Senate confirmed Alan Davidson, President Joe Biden's nominee to head the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, in a 60-31 vote on Jan. 11, more than two months after his official nomination was announced in late October 2021.

Davidson's official title is the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information, a position that sits within the Department of Commerce. In his role, he will be managing some $48 billion devoted to broadband and spectrum matters as part of the infrastructure package, one of the largest budgetary allocations for information policy in the nation's history.

He will also be responsible for managing spectrum deployment and other collaborations with the Federal Communications Commission, including broadband mapping, one of the major priorities the agency has set out to address in recent years.

The infrastructure act, signed into law in November 2021, devotes $65 billion to broadband resources, with $48 billion specifically allocated to the NTIA. Nearly 90% of that NTIA allotment is to be used for grants in states and U.S. territories to fund high-speed broadband deployment.

The legislation also includes a condition stating that accurate, nationwide broadband mapping must be made available before the Commerce Department can distribute money to states for broadband projects in an effort to make sure public funding is smartly targeted.

"Alan is eminently qualified to lead NTIA, and it's great to see him confirmed," said Scott Wallsten, president and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute in a statement to S&P Global Market Intelligence. "He is stepping in at a crucial time to guide the agency as it helps design and implement ways of distributing the billions of new dollars in broadband subsidies."

The NTIA is the executive branch agency under the U.S. Commerce Department principally responsible for advising the president on telecommunications and information policy issues. Davidson will also manage various cybersecurity and privacy affairs. In his Dec. 1, 2021, nomination hearing alongside FCC commissioner nominee Gigi Sohn, Davidson said closing the digital divide will be his No. 1 priority as NTIA head. He also committed to working on the broadband mapping issue.

Shane Tews, a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said Davidson is a strong pick for the role and that the funds he will be managing will enable broadband to be deployed to underserved areas of the U.S. "Enhancing broadband across the 50 states will allow more areas of the country to compete for workers in our digital economy," Tews said.

Former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told Market Intelligence in an exclusive interview on Jan. 4 that a confirmed head of the NTIA was needed as soon as possible amid an FCC and Federal Aviation Administration battle over 5G C-band deployment. A day later, Davidson's procedural roll call vote was added to the Senate's schedule for Jan. 10.

Bruce Mehlman, who served as the assistant secretary of commerce for technology policy during President George W. Bush's administration, said in an email that Davidson will need to "hit the ground sprinting" given the vast load of cybersecurity and spectrum matters he will have to manage, on top of the billions in funding allocated for grant distribution. Mehlman is now with the Internet Innovation Alliance as its founding co-chairman.

Davidson most recently served at the Mozilla Foundation, an open market internet advocacy organization stemming from Mozilla Corp.

Davidson previously served in the Department of Commerce as its first director of digital economy, building out an agenda for the department on internet and broadband access priorities during the Obama administration. From 2005-2012, he also served as Google LLC's first policy staffer, helping to establish the tech giant as a major lobbying body in Washington today.

The NTIA nominee saw strong support for confirmation when the Senate invoked cloture on his nomination just one day prior to confirmation, voting 64-30. In December 2021, the Senate Commerce Committee advanced Davidson to a full Senate vote, with just three Republican senators voicing opposition to advancing the nominee.