Confirmation Hearing Puts Focus on Need for Accurate Broadband Maps, Expanded Deployment, Affordability Solutions and Digital Skills
On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce held a confirmation hearing for Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel to serve as permanent Chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). During the hearing, Chairwoman Rosenworcel and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle highlighted the recent positive progress made by Congress and the Commission toward expanding broadband connectivity and digital equity — and the urgent need for additional solutions to permanently eliminate the digital divide in every American community.
Senators noted the FCC must play a lead role in the successful implementation of programs to support broadband adoption in underserved communities, deploy broadband in unserved areas and fix the nation’s tracking of progress against the digital divide through accurate maps.
Read what Senators and Chairwoman Rosenworcel said about closing the broadband gap and improving digital equity during the hearing:
Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel:
“I think communications technologies today are the infrastructure of opportunity. These are the connections—physical and digital—that can strengthen our mutual bonds. They can grow our economy and create new jobs. They help us work, learn, be informed, enlightened, and entertained. And we also need these connections to break down barriers that for too long have held too many back… No matter who you are or where you live in this country—urban, rural, or anything in-between—you need access to modern communications to have a fair shot at digital age success… We need to make sure 100 percent of us in this country have access to fast, affordable, and reliable broadband—every household, every business, every consumer, everyone, everywhere.”
“The homework gap, as you said, may affect as many as 17 million kids in this country. We are making progress with the funds from the Emergency Connectivity Fund, I just don’t want to have to stop until we connect every child, everywhere so no student is locked out of the virtual classroom.”
“The bottom line is this is our moment. It’s like what rural electrification was in the prior century. We’re going to do something audacious. We’re going to connect every household in this country and we’re not going to stop until we get 100 percent of us with fast, reliable and affordable broadband and I think we should say it that clearly and that simply because it has to be our goal. That’s how we’re going to produce more equity in this country and more opportunity.”
Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA):
“The pandemic has made clear that broadband access is no longer a luxury but a necessity to participate in nearly all aspects of society including educating our children. Yesterday’s historic $65 billion investment in broadband is a start but obviously we need the mapping to go with this before we can get anything really done.”
Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK):
“Some of the most vulnerable people in the country with very limited access to health care, a lot of them are my constituents…With the infrastructure bill, USDA’s initiatives, NTIA’s initiatives, there is going to be an opportunity on more broadband throughout the country, particularly in rural communities.”
Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT):
“[Rosenworcel] invented the term homework gap to describe the increasing digital divide that unfortunately increasingly impedes children and their efforts to stay current in studies when they need broadband access and her leadership and commitment to closing the digital divide and ending the homework gap, I think, has been extremely productive and significant. We have really a once in a lifetime opportunity here to confirm an FCC Chairman who will effectively implement the President’s infrastructure law which includes $65 billion as investment in expanding broadband. She has been a champion at making broadband more affordable and addressing that digital divide’s impact on disadvantaged communities.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN):
“This pandemic has proven like nothing before that we need to get broadband everyone, everywhere. We need to get it to 100% of the country and we can’t accept anything less and with this recent infrastructure bill I think we have a chance for generational change but it requires us to execute.”
“I am as excited as my colleagues about the new major federal resources that will be targeted toward broadband, universal broadband, high speed access for all but I know you agree that it won’t be a success if we don’t have better maps.”
Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI):
“I just find that number mindboggling. In the wealthiest nation in the history of the world and in a context where we forced kids onto a WebEx or Zoom and then 17 million of these kids don’t have access to the internet. It is unconscionable and I think it’s all of our collective responsibility and I thank you for leading in this space.”
Senator Ed Markey (D-MA):
“The coronavirus pandemic has also highlighted the homework gap, experienced by 12 to 17 million children, mostly poor children, rural children, black and brown children, in our country who have been unable to complete their homework at home. It’s why I fought for $7 billion for an Emergency Connectivity Fund which is now the law and I thank you for the excellent way in which you have implemented that program… I think the numbers actual show the urgency of continuing to deal with the issue and we’re working hard to include more money in the Build Back Better programs so [the FCC will] have more resources in order to deal with this issue.”
Senator Jon Tester (D-MT):
“I don’t need to tell you that internet access has always been a major challenge, in particularly in rural states like Montana. This pandemic has only exacerbated those challenges. Congress and the FCC, Montana schools have received 850,000 bucks for emergency connectivity funds. Doesn’t sound like a lot but it’s a lot for Montana. Montana health providers received nearly $2.9 million through the FCC’s Telehealth Program. As of this last Monday we got about, nearly 13,000 households in Montana that are using Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. And now we’ve got the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act which I’m imminently familiar with because I’m one of the ten that helped negotiate it. We’re going to see $65 billion in investments in broadband infrastructure there.”
Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV):
“One of the lessons we have learned during the pandemic is how critical it is for all Americans to have access to affordable broadband. So, I’m so glad this week that President Biden signed into the law, the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act which has a historic investment in broadband access and affordability.”
Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA):
“I think broadband is to the 21st century what electricity and electric lights were to the 20th century. The lack of reliable broadband is hurting our kids, it’s hurting vital services like telehealth, it’s hurting our economy.”
“…I introduced the Device Access for Every American Act. This bill would provide essential devices like laptops and tablets for free to low-income families so parents and kids can access opportunities for work, school, health and more. I’m so glad this legislation is part of the Build Back Better package and I’m going to work really hard until we get it signed into law.”
Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ):
“This week President Biden signed into law the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. I was proud to work with Senator Portman, the White House, Chair Cantwell and many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass the historic law that includes our boldest investment ever in closing the digital divide. The bipartisan infrastructure law invests $65 billion in broadband deployment, affordability for low-income families, digital inclusion and specific programs for broadband expansion in rural and tribal areas.”
Read Connect Americans Now’s statement ahead of the confirmation hearing with key questions for lawmakers to ask HERE.
Read more about the digital divide and solutions to permanently close the broadband gap HERE.