Communications

Sector Chiefs:

David Chen

Sector Overview

Over the past few decades, the Communications Sector has evolved from predominantly closed wireline telecommunications, focused on providing equipment and voice capabilities, into diverse, open, highly competitive, interconnected services with wireless, satellite, cable, and broadcast companies providing many of those same capabilities. Although market competition and standardization have helped lower prices and spurred the development of new services, these developments also have presented new challenges for those working to protect critical communications assets for NS/EP purposes.

Two key policy events helped shape the modern-day communications industry. The first event was the 1984 court-ordered breakup of AT&T, which controlled the majority of the local and long-distance markets. The second event was the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which, as the Telecommunications Act conference report states, aimed “to provide for a pro-competitive, de-regulatory national policy framework designed to accelerate rapidly private sector deployment of advanced telecommunications and information technologies and services to all Americans by opening all telecommunications markets to competition.” As a result, instead of one company controlling and protecting the entire communications network, hundreds of wireline and wireless companies, including cellular and satellite, provide communications services today.

The industry continued to expand in concert with the economic boom of the late 1990s, which spurred a network-building binge within the Communications Sector. Large investments were made in new fiber facilities, helping to modernize the communications infrastructure and deliver advanced Internet services to home and business users. As the Nation began to experience an economic downturn in 2000, the communications industry saw an oversupply of capacity and a drop in prices. Capital spending declined, jobs were cut, and seasoned communications industry players and new competitors filed for bankruptcy.

In addition to these sweeping regulatory and economic changes, technological convergence has also had a profound impact on the communications industry. Whereas the public network had consisted primarily of the narrowband, mature Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), it is now rapidly evolving toward wideband, packet-based next-generation networks (NGNs). In addition to the complexity associated with convergence, the Nation’s communications system is characterized by a diversity of technology and intra-sector dependencies.

In the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Congress charged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with creating a national broadband plan. Congress recognized that the emergence of these new broadband networks could provide significant benefits to a wide variety of stakeholders and specifically asked the FCC to address, among other matters, the use of broadband to advance public safety and homeland security. The FCC is currently involved in a significant effort to explore how broadband technologies, tools, and innovations might aid in such areas as next-generation 911 emergency services, emergency warning systems, priority services, and cyber security. NS/EP recommendations are expected to be included in the FCC’s 2010 National Broadband Plan and are certain to have a direct impact on many initiatives affecting the Communications Sector.

Customer demands and business imperatives are bringing about the convergence of traditional circuit switched networks interoperating with broadband and packet-based Internet Protocol (IP) networks. The evolution of wireless, wireline, and cable networks is driving toward next-generation global communications networks. Many networks and providers have developed the capability to carry voice, video, text, and data transparently to many types of end-user devices. Mobile phones able to access an array of Web-based services are only one example of this enhanced ability.

The scale, scope, and character of network convergence are fundamentally changing the way all communications are planned for, prioritized, and ultimately delivered. Packet-switched environments place greater control capabilities at the network “edge” and rely heavily on intelligent devices to execute key functions. Advanced network management capabilities provide additional functionality, reliability, and cyber security. Consequently, the transition to the NGN presents challenges for ensuring the security and availability of NS/EP communications. In this new converged environment, NS/EP communications and critical business communications are subject to an increased number of cyber threats based on inherent vulnerabilities and interdependencies that are known or are expected to exist in the converged networks.

Some vulnerabilities that existed in legacy networks present more of a challenge to the NGN. For example, the sheer number of interconnections that characterize the NGN can be exploited by cyber threats to provide rapid and far-reaching propagation of malicious payloads and other forms of cyber-attacks. These and other vulnerabilities create complex risk scenarios for NS/EP communications. An additional challenge is the global nature of the converged networks and, thus, methods for managing incidents of national significance are even more critical and may require international cooperation.

Additionally, the Communications Sector is well aware of the scope and potential severity of cyber security threats facing CIKR. The industry has invested heavily in incident detection, prevention, and mitigation capabilities. The sector is able to gather threat information by investing capital in its networks that allows Internet activity monitoring, anomaly detection, distributed denial of service attack detection, botnet detection, malware analysis, and proprietary research into each area.

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