Scott Woods Director NTIA Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives

A Conversation with Scott D. Woods, Esq., Director, NTIA Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives

The following is a transcript of an interview conducted during Black History Month by WIA Diversity and Inclusion Sr. Advisor and Chief Strategist Ronald Johnson with NTIA Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives Director Scott Woods covering Woods’ federal career in broadband policies and programs.

Ron: Scott, thanks for taking some time from your very busy schedule to speak with me about your career in which some have described you as a subject matter expert on the evolution and implementation of telecom policy, specifically broadband. You are the Director, Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives, within the Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth of The National Telecommunications & Information Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce. That is a long title, but it speaks to your enormous responsibilities.

First, much appreciation for speaking at WIA’s Connect (X) 2021 Conference in Orlando, Florida.

You left a memorable impression on our conferees, and we look forward to having you this year at Connect X [2022] in May in Denver.

Can you share a little of your background that prepared you for your career trajectory, including where you are from and your education? Also, I understand you have two very athletic and scholarly sons—are they preparing for careers as lawyers?

Scott: First, I wish to extend my sincere thanks and gratitude to WIA’s President, Jonathan Adelstein, Vice President Tim House, the entire Wireless Infrastructure Association staff and its Board of Directors for acknowledging Black History Month and for including me along with the African American members of telecom Board of Directors profiled on your website.  It is indeed a great honor and privilege to be included in this celebration with them. I fully support WIA’s mission to deliver broadband access to all citizens and communities, andI was pleased to speak at your conference last year in Orlando and sharing the platform with diverse suppliers and leaders from Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Thank you for inviting me to represent NTIA. 

Ron: Thank you for that Scott, and we appreciate you and the great work NTIA is doing in broadband through President Biden’s Build Back Better Plan for America that will provide connectivity to everyone and everywhere under the leadership of Commerce Secretary, the Honorable Gina Raimondo.

Ron: Let’s dive into:  Who is Scott D. Woods?

Scott:  I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan.  I attended Ann Arbor Trail Magnet Middle School and Frank Cody High School, the Comets.  Upon leaving Detroit, I attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia and earned my bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies in 1994. A little-known fact, I started at Morehouse as a declared dual-degree Physics and Math major…well, that didn’t last very long. Although, I learned a very important lesson to always be true to who you are and value what you know.  This sound principle has guided me since my days at Morehouse, both personally and professionally. Subsequently, I moved to Washington, D.C., to pursue my master’s degree in Public Policy at American University, which I earned in 1998; and my Juris Doctorate degree at Howard University’s School of Law which I earned in 2003.  

As you noted, my wife and I have two sons, and both have excelled academically and athletically in football and track and field. We are extremely proud of them, particularly given the extraordinary challenges facing our young Black men. In addition to excelling academically, our sons have won the Northern Virginia Football Hall of Fame – Youth Football Player of the Year Awards, are Junior Olympic track champions and hold several local and regional records. Our oldest is a freshman at Harvard and is a member of the Crimson football team. Our youngest attends St. John’s College High School in D.C. and is also a member of the Cadets football team. I must say, they are really good players, but more importantly than their athletic achievements, they are smart, kind, thoughtful and well-rounded young men. I will admit though that they had excellent coaching growing up [laugh]. 

Ron: Seriously though, I believe you coached your sons in football, correct?

Scott: Yes, I did. I served as a Head Coach for our local youth football team, and I also coached high school football as an Offensive Coordinator and Wide Receivers Coach for several years. The door is still open regarding their career paths and I have advised them to keep all options open, but fundamentally, studying to become a lawyer will provide an excellent foundation for whatever career paths they choose. My wife and I continue to encourage them to consider becoming lawyers.

Ron: Well, that is an excellent lead in for my next question. Share with me your migration from the practice of law to a public policy career. You attended an historic and prestigious law school, Howard University, with its many notable impactful alumni, such as the first women graduate, Charlotte Ray, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Judge William Hastie, Judge Spotswood W. Robinson, III, Judge Charles H. Houston, Judge Damien Keith, former head of the National Urban League and political insider Vernon Jordan, and former Governor of Virginia, L. Douglas Wilder just to name a few. Yet, with all these venerable Howard role models you left the practice of law for a public policy career in the federal service. What motivated you to make that change?

Scott: You are correct, Howard University’s Law School has a rich and storied tradition of developing extraordinary and history-making legal scholars and practitioners.And without a doubt,I really enjoyed my experience in law school and as a private practice attorney. As an attorney, I represented telecom companies in regulatory proceedings; advised telecommunication companies on regulatory issues and business matters; and researched and evaluated the impact of federal laws and agency regulations. I learned a lot about the telecom industry, various products and services, company business practices and most importantly, how to treat, value and invest in people. And, I enjoyed my time as practicing attorney. However, I decided to pursue a much broader professional experience that combined the application of law, policy, business, and people. My legal training and private practice career provided me with the foundation to pursue those opportunities, and fortunately, I joined the Department of Commerce and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) at the launch of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act programs under the Obama Administration and specifically, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) at NTIA. The BTOP initiative provided me with an opportunity to establish and develop an historic broadband grant program, to play a role in developing and growing a new organization with new rules, regulations, practices, etc. and allowed me to positively impact many lives and communities across the country. So clearly, I have continued to utilize my legal training and professional experience. 

Ron: Certainly, you have. Since joining the U.S. Department of Commerce in 2010, you have been involved in Broadband at the start of the BTOP era under President Obama and now under President Biden. What have been some of your most challenging and rewarding experiences during this time?

Scott: I have been very fortunate that I work with amazing and talented professionals and public servants within the Department of Commerce and specifically at NTIA. As a result of our various broadband programs and initiatives, I am probably one of the very few attorneys who has personally witnessed a 250ft tower installation in Puerto Rico; witnessed crews install conduit and pull fiber through manholes in Texas; witnessed engineers install internet traffic aggregation equipment and servers in a Network Operating Center in West Virginia; and, witnessed the installation of back-up generators at a fiber access point in US Virgin Islands. I have traveled to numerous communities around the country, including several U.S. territories, and worked in a litany of different settings from the local community meeting to big corporate executive board room meetings to expand broadband infrastructure, access, and digital inclusion.

I can tell you without a doubt that there are broadband champions in neighborhoods, communities and businesses everywhere, to include all ethnic and racial groups and cultural backgrounds. My time and experiences at NTIA working with them have been the most rewarding for me. Each community that I have worked with or visited, no matter the geographic location or demographic characteristics, has genuinely expressed very similar goals and objectives: (1) to increase economic opportunities for community members, entrepreneurs, and local businesses and (2) expand educational opportunities for their children. If I had to summarize a constant or consistent theme during my career at NTIA – it is the absolute desire for communities to improve, build, and expand opportunities for the next generation. It sounds cliche’, but in essence, that’s the final analysis and summary of my work.

Overall, I have learned the true value of public service and how to invest in people and relationships. These lessons and experiences have had a profound impact on my life and have shaped me professionally and personally. As a result, I have a better perspective about what is important, what to fight for, and a clearer understanding of the impact of providing equal opportunities for everyone, no matter what they look like or where they live. Unfortunately, what has been disconcerting is the general rise in vitriol and mistrust against the federal government and the general disrespect towards each other and certain marginalized people and groups. My personal travels reveal a much different, more thoughtful, and inclusive America. And, I am grateful for those experiences.

Ron: That is a powerful testimony of your belief in a one America, and it is good to hear. As WIA celebrates more African American women and men serving on telecom corporate boards, how impactful and encouraging is this for you as someone engaged in broadband initiatives at a very high level?

Scott: It is truly impactful and encouraging to witness. I applaud WIA’s efforts to highlight, celebrate and encourage more racial and gender diversity on telecom corporate boards and believe that ultimately, we all want to achieve broadband access, infrastructure expansion, affordable services, and digital equity for everyone. It’s the only way we can ensure that all Americans can compete in the new generation digital economy. Diversity and inclusion are fundamentally sound business practices that more companies should support and engage as this leads to more productivity, efficiency, effective access to broader markets, and opportunities to market additional goods and services. I believe that diversity is one of the foundational success elements in our American culture, and we need more representation and influencers regarding best business practices and the development of comprehensive policies that positively impact all of society. 

Ron: As you know, we are in a transformative period in the telecommunications industry. The increase in African Americans serving on telecom corporate boards is one indicator of that transformation. Clearly, our industry has made significant strides, and offers unparallel opportunities for diversity in our workforce and supply chain.  What advice can you provide to aspiring professionals and entrepreneurs entering our industry?

Scott: I will provide this advice to anyone interested in a career in broadband telecommunications: you have to be flexible and willing to learn, adapt and grow. The underlying technological advances in this industry change very quickly, the COVID-19 technological response and resulting broadband needs are great examples, and there are always nuances to learn about and the direct and derivative impacts on society. I don’t believe that the broadband industry will ever be stagnant, practically or theoretically as broadband expansion and new technological advancements and innovations will serve as catalysts for the development of new applications, open new markets, drive competition, and result in constant changes and enhancements in business practices. These advancements and innovations will impact governing laws and public policies, social and personal behaviors, and other derivative industries and issues- such as transportation, public safety, economic development, telemedicine, etc. More importantly, we have to be aware of the application and impact of these developments and changes on the broadband industry and for all aspects of society. Think about the significant and rapid changes to the broadband industry, broadband-related services, and devices in the last 20 years—as professionals, we must continue to learn and be open to accept, adopt and utilize new ideas, concepts, approaches and platforms.

Ron: This has been a most enlightening conversation and a perfect forum as WIA celebrates African Americans on corporate telecom boards. Do you have any final thoughts for our web followers?

Scott: Again, thank you to WIA for the invitation for me to share my career experiences in broadband and telecom, and especially the work that I have done and will continue to do with my great team and co-workers at NTIA. I offer a special thank you and acknowledgment to you, Dr. Johnson, for your life-long and well-documented career in telecom, public service, and philanthropy, and your unrelenting commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This has been an extremely rewarding experience for me, and I am honored to be here with you today.

Ron: Thanks so much, Scott! Continued success in your career.


Ronald Johnson serves as WIA’s Senior Advisor and Chief Strategist for DE&I, and SME for HBCUs. Dr. Johnson is involved in telecom on many platforms, and a recognized authority on the confluence of broadband policy, supplier diversity and inclusive communities.