WASHINGTON, DC – The Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, chaired by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), today held a hearing examining 25 bills that seek to improve broadband infrastructure across the country. Members engaged with a panel of seven expert witnesses who provided a range of perspectives on this important issue.
Chairman Blackburn listens as witnesses provide their opening remarks
Chairman Blackburn began by discussing the bipartisan nature of today’s hearing, stating, “We wanted to have a very inclusive hearing today to discuss all of the ideas from Subcommittee members on both sides of the aisle to promote broadband infrastructure deployment with a goal of closing the digital divide. Whether you agree or disagree with any individual idea, it is so important that we get the conversation started. And we have plenty to talk about, with 25 bills introduced in time to be part of our hearing today. I very much appreciate all of the thoughtful proposals and look forward to seeing many of them progress in the coming weeks.”
In his opening remarks, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) highlighted the significance of U.S leadership in broadband infrastructure, stating, “This is an exciting time for America. We want to be in the lead, we don’t want to wait. We could do a hearing every week for 25 weeks, and then move forward. Or, we can do one hearing with 25 bills, figure out our ideas among ourselves, come together as a committee in a bipartisan way, deal with making America, again, clear in the forefront on development of connectivity, wired and wireless, and the newest innovation and technology.”
#SubCommTech Vice Chairman Leonard Lance (R-NJ) spoke to the importance of encouraging private investment in broadband deployment, saying, “As we consider how best to promote broadband deployment and next generation networks it is important that we remember the successes of private investment in the past and pursue federal policies to help and encourage an emphasis on more private investment in the future. As our economy becomes increasingly more digitized, bringing broadband access to more areas of the country connects more consumers and small businesses to the internet economy for the economic benefit of all.”
Vice Chairman Lance reviews his notes as he prepares to question the panel
Mr. Jonathan Spalter, President and CEO, USTelecom, talked about the need for Congress to act, noting, “Broadband providers are on the front line in the effort to close the digital divide investing $1.6 trillion of their own capital to upgrade and expand the nation’s digital infrastructure since 1996. As a result, over the past decade, broadband in rural homes has risen 117 percent. Despite these efforts, there is more work to be done. Many of USTelecom’s member-companies, family-owned businesses in small towns serving American’s rural heartland, can testify to how expensive it can be to expand or upgrade networks in rural areas. While the Executive Orders signed by the President are a welcome first step in addressing this issue, Congressional action is also critical to address this gap.”
Ms. Elin Swanson Katz, Consumer Counsel, Connecticut Consumer Counsel, touched on the ‘Homework Gap’ many students across the country face due to lack of sufficient broadband access, testifying, “What we learned about and heard from students in North Hartford is deeply troubling to me as a consumer advocate, a former teacher, a parent, and as a human being. No child should have to do their homework at a McDonald’s or Dunkin’ Donuts, or sit outside, in the dark, trying to finish a school project using someone else’s Wi-Fi. The implications for our educational system and the quality of education that we deliver to children in low-income urban communities is profound.”
Mr. Brad Gillen, Executive Vice President, CTIA, underscored the role broadband deployment plays in the race to 5G, commenting, “The timing of this hearing is fortuitous as U.S. wireless providers are preparing to roll out the next-generation of wireless networks, 5G, and bold federal infrastructure reform can greatly expedite the millions of jobs and billions of investment that national 5G deployment will bring. Nations from Asia to Europe are investing heavily in 5G, but none of those countries can match the dynamism of the U.S. wireless industry. With four nationwide providers, and dozens more regional carriers and resellers, massive private investment will be unleashed in the U.S. if the government modernizes its approach to infrastructure siting. With this Committee’s continued leadership, we are confident we can win the global race to 5G—as we did for 4G.”
Mr. Scott Slesinger, Legislative Director, Natural Resources Defense Council, expressed the need for action to fix America’s infrastructure, stating, “This Congress has a very important responsibility to address the failing infrastructure that has made America less globally competitive and is undermining our quality of life.” He added, “Any world traveler, and in fact, President Trump himself, has noted that the airports and roads of our country now suffer in comparison to other developed and even some developing countries. Lack of access to broadband limits economic vitality and limits educational opportunities in many underserved communities.”
Mr. Matthew Polka, President and CEO, American Cable Association, testified on how the new tax law is helping remove high-cost barriers to broadband deployment, saying, “Because network investment will be propelled by the just-enacted tax statute, it is a key factor for which you need to account. ACA members have told us that because the new law permits them to ‘expense’ their network investments immediately and cuts the corporate tax rate to 21%, they have substantially greater incentives and ability to increase their capital spending significantly in the coming years. We estimate that the new tax law will turn more than 400,000 homes in unserved areas into economically viable areas ripe for private investors to build high-speed broadband or fiber-to-the-home services. Additional areas would also become suitable for private investors using other technologies.”
Ms. Joanne Hovis, President, CTC Technology and Energy, provided testimony on the challenges to encouraging private broadband investment, stating, “If return on investment is low or nonexistent, the investment will not be made. To solve this, state, local, and federal governments can take steps to improve the economics of broadband deployment in areas where investment has been insufficient. These areas include not only rural communities, but also underserved urban areas such as small business locations in cities and suburbs, as well as low-income areas where adoption is low and incumbents see no return that justifies network upgrades. Particular attention and support must be directed to those areas; without such efforts, private dollars will continue to flow primarily to the most profitable areas.”
Ms. Shirley Bloomfield, CEO, NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association, noted in her testimony, “Even where broadband is available, sustaining it and upgrading it to keep pace with today’s economy and user demands is a challenge unto itself; the job is not done when networks are deployed, because consumers’ use of broadband depends upon reliable and affordable services that will stay high-quality and keep pace with advances in technology and user needs. Thus, even as we have successes to celebrate and roadmaps to look to for proven track records of success, we as a nation have much more to do both to reach unserved areas and also to sustain robust and affordable rural broadband where it is available today.”
For more information on today’s hearing, including a background memo, witness testimony, and archived webcast, click here.
To learn more about the committee’s efforts on broadband infrastructure, click here.