What They Are Saying: Lawmakers, FCC Commissioners Agree Urgent Action Required to Bridge the Digital Divide

House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology Discusses Impact of Broadband Gap During Pandemic, Solutions to Expand Connectivity

On Thursday, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing on oversight of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on broadband connectivity and the digital divide.

Lawmakers and FCC Commissioners, on both sides of the aisle, highlighted their commitment to eliminating the broadband gap in America and expressed their support for critical solutions to expand connectivity. Among the topics addressed, commissioners discussed important solutions to maximize spectrum resources, clear regulatory barriers to broadband innovation, reduce regulatory red tape, fix the nation’s broadband mapping data and address specific needs like remote learning and telehealth.

Members of Congress also shared accounts from constituents about how a lack of broadband access negatively impacts their life, particularly for students continuing virtual learning and for those who would benefit from broadband-enabled telehealth solutions.  

Here’s what lawmakers, from both sides of the aisle, are saying about the urgency for action to bridge the digital divide:

Rep. Michael Doyle (D-PA-18), Chairman, U.S. House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology:

“For many of us, high speed broadband has become the means by which we work, live and stay healthy. In the last seven months, the internet has become the lifeline we used to buy groceries, see doctors and interact with the outside world.”

Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR-02), Ranking Member U.S. House Committee on Energy & Commerce:

“Let’s show America how we can work together to close the digital divide, that should be our common goal.”

Rep. Jerry McNerrny (D-CA-09):

“Every school in my district is starting at 100 percent distance learning in addition to the stress of wildfires and the many challenges of shifting to distance learning. The burden of addressing connectivity gaps facing students has fallen entirely on our schools.”

Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI-07):

“We all want connectivity, we all know that we’re not there yet; we’re expanding that direction, we need to achieve it … we’re going to need more of this in the rural areas and I’m hoping that common sense prevails.”

Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ-01):

“The work of the Federal Communications Commission to ensure connectivity to all Americans has never been more critical. When I say all Americans, I mean every American…We need to look into the future, plan for the future and allow everybody – businesses, healthcare, education – to have the same abilities as any other area in America.”

Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT-00):

“The internet is a lifeline for our rural communities. It contributes to our economies, enabling precision agriculture, education, health care and jobs and this crisis has highlighted the ability for folks to work from anywhere yet two in five Montanans in our rural areas lack access to broadband.”

Marc A. Veasey (D-TX-33):

“We know, in this digital divide, having broadband internet at home is critical to everything we do – from virtual learning to telehealth, to applying for a job or paying rent – all of these connections are only as strong as our weakest signal. We need to make sure we have a reliable connection at home.”

Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH-06):

“As this pandemic has highlighted, far too many Americans still don’t have access to reliable high-speed internet.”

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

“In the midst of a pandemic, internet access is – in all senses – a lifeline… normal and incremental progress just won’t cut it, we need extraordinary and heroic efforts in other areas… Our teachers do not have proper technology and students don’t have the devices and sufficient access to high speed internet to learn properly, and they’re falling through the cracks.”

Here are what FCC Commissioners are saying about efforts to eliminate the digital divide and what more can be done to swiftly deploy broadband service to Americans, including by maximizing spectrum resources, clearing regulatory barriers to innovative solutions like TV white space and targeting specific needs like remote learning and telehealth:

Ajit Pai, FCC Chairman:

“My top priority since becoming FCC Chairman in January 2017 has been closing the digital divide, and we’ve taken many steps to do so… I would like to highlight the extraordinary work of our career staff in rolling out our successful COVID-19 Telehealth Program. The CARES Act passed on March 27, authorizing $200 million for this program. Four days later, the Commission adopted rules, thanks to our dedicated staff… we committed all the funds by July 8—less than four months after enactment of the CARES Act—aiding patients, hospitals, and healthcare providers in some of the hardest hit areas of the country. Out of several thousand applicants, we managed to fund 539 applications from health providers in 47 states plus Washington, D.C. and Guam, including, among others, the Navajo Nation Department of Health in Window Rock, Arizona. This program is supporting the daily work of frontline healthcare providers in both urban and rural areas, from coast to coast. By enabling and improving connected healthcare services, we’re helping many patients safely access vital healthcare services while reducing the risks to healthcare providers.”

Mike O’Reilly, FCC Commissioner:

“One of my highest priorities, which stems from my earliest efforts as a Congressional staffer, has been to make spectrum available for new commercial purposes, both licensed and unlicensed. Nearly every significant spectrum effort over the last seven years started with my laying the groundwork to take it on, through speeches, blogs, and hundreds of conversations…From CBRS, C-Band, 5.9 GHz, 6 GHz, TVWS, 3.1 to 3.55 GHz, and multiple millimeter wave bands, I initiated these fights because there was and remains a dire need to reallocate inefficiently used frequencies to more functional wireless purposes.”

Brendan Carr, FCC Commissioner:

“The delivery of high-tech, high-quality care is no longer limited to the confines of connected, brick-and-mortar facilities. With remote patient monitoring and mobile health applications that can be accessed right on a smartphone or tablet, we now have the technology to deliver high-quality care directly to patients, regardless of where they are located.”

Jessica Rosenworcel, FCC Commissioner:

“We need a 100 percent policy. We need 100 percent of us connected to broadband. Just like with electricity. Just like with water. That’s because no individual, no household, and no community will have a fair shot at success without it.”

Geoffrey Starks, FCC Commissioner:

“The need for affordable broadband is particularly great among American communities of color. Black, Indigenous, and Latin Americans remain significantly less likely to have a home broadband connection than their counterparts. By a wide margin, these families disproportionately rely on public Wi-Fi, frequently offered by libraries and fast-food restaurants.”

Join our fight to bring broadband to all rural Americans. Tell Washington to take action to bridge the digital divide now!