What They Are Saying: Lawmakers and NTIA Administrator Agree Flexibility Critical to Maximizing Infrastructure Resources to Close the Broadband Gap

U.S. House Hearing Puts Focus on Need for Technology Neutral Approach That Prioritizes Unserved Communities to Eliminate the Digital Divide

On Wednesday, the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing — “Connecting America: Oversight of NTIA” —giving lawmakers an opportunity to ask National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Administrator Alan Davidson about the agency’s approach to implementing $42 billion in broadband programs established by the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Members of Congress, from both sides of the aisle, along with Administrator Davidson agreed that NTIA has a historic opportunity to make substantial progress towards bridging the digital divide and highlighted the importance of allowing states and broadband providers the flexibility they need to connect the greatest number of people as quickly as possible. Lawmakers also emphasized the need for NTIA to implement safeguards, in line with the statute, to ensure unserved communities are prioritized to avoid leaving communities stuck further behind the digital divide.

Read what lawmakers and Administrator Davidson had to say:

Alan Davidson, Administrator, NTIA:

“NTIA has many responsibilities, but today I will highlight the top priorities for us this year. Priority number one is closing the digital divide. Gaps in broadband access mean gaps in opportunity: fewer opportunities to learn and work from home, remotely visit doctors, or stay connected with family and friends. Achieving an equitable future means ensuring that homes and businesses have high-quality connections at affordable prices, and the means to use them.

Thanks to the leadership and work of this Subcommittee, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provided $65 billion to help deliver affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet to every American and help close the digital divide. NTIA was allocated $48.2 billion of that total. 2 To achieve these goals, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law created or expanded four programs at NTIA. The $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program will fund infrastructure buildouts needed to connect every American to reliable, high-speed, affordable Internet. … We’re not adopting a one-size-fits-all approach here. We know that fiber is an extremely important technology, it’s very resilient, future-proof, but we also know that there may be situations where other technologies are important. So, states are going to craft their programs, it’s not one-size-fits-all, and that’s how we’re going to approach it.”

Representative Jerry McNearney (D-CA-09), Acting Chair, U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology:

“Today’s hearing comes at a crucial time in our nation’s history for delivering one of the most valuable resources of the 21st century: the internet. And the pivotal agency that is going to help us cross the finish line and reach this important goal is one that’s before us today, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, NTIA. … The bipartisan infrastructure law is poised to have a massive impact on the roughly 30 million Americans who currently cannot connect to the internet. As we have all learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, broadband is the foundation that allows so many American workers to support their families, or children to expand their horizons and complete their homework and all of us to strengthen our bonds with family and friends, even when we’re thousands of miles apart.”

Representative Bob Latta (R-OH-05), Ranking Member, U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology:

“The COVID-19 pandemic magnified the importance of internet access as so much of our daily lives moved online. From telehealth to education, nearly every aspect of American life was forced online overnight. And, unlike our international counterparts, our providers were well positioned to step up and make sure their networks were successful in handling the spike in traffic. … Yet, despite this success, more work must be done to close the digital divide in many of the hardest to reach parts of the country, including my district. … NTIA received an unprecedented $43 billion of funding for broadband deployment and over $15 to promote digital equality and equity and broadband affordability. This staggering investment must first prioritize hard-to-reach, unserved areas.”

Representative Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ-06), Chairman, U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce:

“Broadband internet is not a luxury; it is a necessity. It’s needed for Americans to do their jobs, run their small businesses, study for school, meet with their doctor for a telehealth visit, and connect with family and friends. Unfortunately, studies estimate that as many as 30 million Americans are still without home broadband internet access. Members of this Committee — on both sides of the aisle — have for years discussed ways to address this issue so that everyone can take part in today’s digital society. In November, Congress and President Biden delivered for the American people with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that included a historic $65 billion investment in broadband programs. This funding will support the cost of building these networks into rural and underserved communities — including Tribal communities — so that they can finally benefit from the economic and educational opportunities they deserve. This investment will ensure every American has access to reliable high-speed internet.”

Representative Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA-05), Ranking Member, U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce:

“NTIA is tasked with ensuring all Americans have a reliable broadband connection. This is a massive responsibility requiring significant investment. … Access to broadband has never been more important… remote schools, telehealth, virtual meetings and business. … Unfortunately, many Americans continue to live in areas with no connectivity at all. Through the infrastructure bill, Congress provided nearly $43 billion for broadband deployment. … This funding must be targeted for truly unserved areas — that is areas currently lacking broadband speeds the FCC considers served, which are those areas that lack download speeds of 25 MBS per second and upload speeds of 3MBS per second. … The only way to connect all Americans is by reliably tracking broadband funding, making sure agencies utilize the FCC’s updated maps and prioritizing unserved areas first. NTIA must get this right in order to close the digital divide once and for all. … I also believe that in order to connect all Americans, we need a technology neutral approach to funding broadband projects. And the focus on fiber will only get us so far.”

Representative Marc Veasey (D-TX-33):

“I wanted to talk with you about this historic funding to make real progress towards universal funding for broadband connectivity. I know today’s hearing is a culmination of critical and bipartisan broadband investments that we’ve been working on for a long time on this committee and I’m very pleased that the bipartisan infrastructure law makes equitable investments across the country by expanding access to broadband access and addressing affordability concerns which in a district like mine is very important…. As you mentioned in your written testimony, Administrator Davidson, we have been given a historic opportunity and I couldn’t agree with you more. We are truly in the unique position to deliver on our commitment to achieve universal broadband connectivity and I wanted to ask you, the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the challenges around broadband connectivity, particularly in lower income communities, what safeguards will NTIA implement to ensure projects funded through these programs are technology neutral to allow communities the flexibility to meet their unique needs while at the same time emphasizing future proof solutions so that this significant federal investment is good for years to come?”

Representative John Joyce (R-PA-13):

“Connectivity continues to be a serious issue in my district and the commonwealth of Pennsylvania as a whole. Nearly 800,000 Pennsylvanians go without fast, reliable broadband including a half a million of them, more than 500,000 of them living in rural communities throughout Pennsylvania. Now more than ever we must work together to bridge that digital divide. This is why it is so important that we steer funding to areas, areas that are in most need of that digital, of bridging the digital divide.”

Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL-09):

“I also wanted just to remind you of NTIA’s commitment to distribute broadband funding consistent with our Congressional intent, which is tech neutral manner to underserved and unserved communities and this is going to be key going forward.”


Read Connect Americans Now’s (CAN) statement prior to the hearing urging lawmakers and administration officials to highlight the importance of maximizing broadband programs through a technology neutral approach that prioritizes unserved communities HERE.

Read more on CAN’s recent public comment letter, co-signed by 36 organizations, on the NTIA broadband programs HERE.

Learn more about CAN and our mission HERE.


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