U.S. Policy Office

The National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, was established in 1978. In the years preceding NTIA's inception, the Executive branch had established an Office of Telecommunication Policy (headed by Clay T. Whitehead) in order to spearhead administration communication policy in certain areas, notably cable television. The NTIA succeeded this unit, and combined the responsibilities and mission of the president's Office of Telecommunication Policy (OTP) and the Department of Commerce's Office of Telecommunications. Its main responsibilities include managing the federal portion of the electromagnetic spectrum and advising and coordinating various agencies within the executive branch on telecommunications and information policy matters. It is the principal advisor to the president on communication policy, and also operates a research and engineering Institute for Telecommunication Sciences in Colorado.

An organization like the NTIA seemed necessary to some policy makers in the late 1970s insofar as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was (and remains) increasingly burdened by the day-to-day matters of spectrum management and regulating the telephone, other common carrier, television and cable industries. The commission was hindered by these routine tasks from developing long range policies that could effectively plan for the increasing range of communication technologies. Moreover, at the same time the Nixon and Ford Administrations were highly critical of the media and desired a more powerful, direct hand in their regulation. The Office of Telecommunications Policy was created in 1970 to satisfy President Nixon's concern in this regard, and under Whitehead OTP quickly took on duties formerly assumed to be the FCC's jurisdiction. For example, the FCC's 1972 cable rules were largely worked out by Whitehead's office through a consensus agreement crafted among the broadcasting, cable and program production industry representatives. Under President Carter OTP's functions were transferred to NTIA.

Conceived as a planning and policy-generating body within the Department of Commerce, NTIA maintains its advisory agency status, even though it is capable of mustering strong political support for its positions. NTIA's reports and investigations have yielded information and positions important to some Congressional action and to some Administration policies regarding communication industries. Its Telecom 2000 report (1988), and NTIA Infrastructure Report (1991) have been among the most influential of its publication. The first documents the rapid rate of technological change and integrates numerous policy issues across various communication systems that required attention. The second profiles the U.S. telecommunications infrastructure and the growth of networks and offers preferred regulatory responses to certain problems, with particular focus on marketplace solutions to the problems created by technological change.

-Sharon Strover


Courtesy of NTIA


National Telecommunications and Information Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. NTIA Telecom 2000: Charting the Course for a New Century. NTIA Special Publication 88-21. Washington, D.C., October 1988.

National Telecommunications and Information Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. The NTIA Infrastructure report: Telecommunications in the age of information. NTIA Special Publication 91-26. Washington, D.C., October 1991.

Stoil, M. "The Executive Branch and International Telecommunications Policy: The Case of WARC '79." In Havick, J., editor, Communications Policy and the Political Process. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 1983.


See also Federal Communications Commision