President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, testified before the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday, touching on tech subjects ranging from wireless spectrum to broadband deployment.
The Commerce Department has broad responsibilities in the tech field, including jurisdiction over the federal government’s airwaves, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and national science labs.
Most notably, Ross said he would push to get government agencies to free up unused spectrum, a longstanding goal of Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D). Ross also said he would work to balance privacy protections and data protectionism in data-transfer agreements such as the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield pact.
Here are other tech tidbits from Wednesday’s confirmation hearing:
- Ross said he will do his “best” to convince agencies to free up spectrum. “We need more spectrum in the private sector, and I will try my best to help convince those government agencies that have spectrum and don’t really need it to permit it to be commercialized,” he told the committee. Later, he expounded, saying there would need to be a balance between national security and freeing up airwaves. He also said government airwaves could “help extend broadband to more rural communities and other segments that are underserved.”
- Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) asked Ross if he considered “the buildout of broadband to be part of infrastructure” and if Ross believes it “should be part of the Trump administration’s infrastructure plan.” Ross responded that “broadband is an essential part. Broadband is to a very large degree a path to the future and therefore it’s a very important component of economic policy altogether including the infrastructure component.”
- Ross said driverless trucks could take away jobs. “Driverless cars are probably a very good thing, they seem to be an inevitable thing but that presumably will lead to driverless trucks,” he said. “There’s something like 3 million American adults who depend on over-the-road trucks for their livelihood, and it’s a pretty good livelihood. And you also have the shorter trip drivers as well. So I think what we have to do is to figure out how to make sure to get the benefits of the improved technologies and yet cope with the dislocation that it inevitably will produce.”
- Transition of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority will remain in place, Ross said. The internet domain name regulator that was part of the Commerce Department for years was transferred to the nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers last year. “As I understand it, there is no real alternative on the table to the ICANN situation. So, for the moment, there’s nothing else to consider,” Ross said. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who was opposed to the transfer of power, pressed Ross further on the issue. Ross said that if he found “a realistic alternative,” he would explore it.