What They Are Saying: Senators, FCC Commissioners Showcase Bipartisan Commitment to Bridging Digital Divide

Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation FCC Oversight Hearing Demonstrates Broad Support for Funding and Solutions to Eliminate the Digital Divide

On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Technology held a hearing on Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Oversight during which much of the discussion centered around efforts to bridge the digital divide — and how the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the urgency to solve this challenge.

Senators, on both sides of the aisle, as well as the FCC Commissioners, reiterated their commitment to eliminating the broadband gap in America and expressed their support for critical solutions, including additional funding for broadband deployments in unserved and underserved areas, maximizing spectrum resources to expand connectivity, clearing regulatory barriers to broadband innovation, keeping Americans connected when they face economic uncertainty, addressing specific challenges like the homework gap and telehealth access and fixing the nation’s broadband mapping data.

Here’s what senators, from both parties, are saying about the urgency for action on the digital divide and the need for Congressional funding to fully eliminate the broadband gap in America:

Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation:

“The COVID-19 public health emergency has put a spotlight on the nation’s networks and the American peoples access to broadband services … Today there are far too many Americans that remain unserved and who lack affordable access to any broadband connection … In addition to developing accurate maps, Congress needs to explore the feasibility of allocating more resources for broadband deployment to areas that are not economical to serve or to families that have experienced economic hardships because of the pandemic. Another important part in making broadband universally available is having a regulatory framework that fosters investment and promotes broadband deployment.”

Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation:

“12 million children currently lack access to broadband alone prohibiting their ability to learn remotely and as we have uncertainty about what the fall and beyond will bring, it’s imperative we deal with this issue … We must expand high quality affordable broadband in unserved and underserved communities so Americans who are being isolated can effectively endure during this pandemic.”

Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE):

“Due to the pandemic, we see students across the country that have had major shifts in their daily lives over the past several months and needing to complete their classwork from home. The questions remain—or, if and how students will be back at schools this fall. It’s going to place some extra stress on addressing both the affordability and the access challenges that they have for internet connectivity.”

Senator Tom Udall (D-NM):

“Broadband service is more essential than ever for new Mexicans to stay connected to school, medical emergency services, work, social services, friends and family.”

Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN):

“Telehealth was considered a luxury and a convenience, but what we’ve found out in COVID was that it was something that is a necessity and very important for people that were suffering and had complex medical conditions.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN):

“And we know that this [homework gap] has always been an issue, but this pandemic has put a major magnifying glass on this problem.”

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 unserved and underserved communities:

Ajit Pai, FCC Chairman:

“My top priority has been to close the digital divide. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Internet connectivity is more important than ever. Americans rely on broadband to telework, take classes online, consult with doctors remotely, and stay in touch with loved ones they can’t see in person. That’s why I’m committed to using, and why we in fact have been deploying, every resource at the FCC’s disposal to deal with this unprecedented national emergency…

We continue to work to promote rural broadband deployment through the reduction of regulatory burdens and reform our USF programs, aiming to efficiently distribute funds to those areas where the business case to deploy with private capital alone does not exist.”

Mike O’Rielly, FCC Commissioner:

“I am also committed to working with Members of Congress in implementing our obligations under the Broadband DATA Act. I have long been critical of the FCC’s reliance on Form 477 Data for purposes of distributing broadband funding, and I applauded the bipartisan efforts that led to the mapping statute being signed into law earlier this year…

I have also been an outspoken advocate for identifying spectrum for unlicensed use over many years … However, we still need to expand on these efforts by, for example, modifying our 6 GHz technical rules to permit very low power devices in the band, permitting unlicensed use in 5.9 GHz while protecting automobile safety systems, and completing our proceeding to maximize use of TV white spaces, especially in rural America.”

Brendan Carr, FCC Commissioner:

“Since we last testified, the country has been seized by a pandemic that has seriously altered

Americans’ lives. Our daily routines—driving to work, sending the kids off to school, even catching up with friends—were upended. Staying at home prompted us to recreate these routines online in an instant. And that sudden, massive transition made our Internet connections more important than ever … I look forward to continuing to work with the Committee on policies that can accelerate the buildout of broadband networks for the benefit of the people we serve.”

Geoffrey Starks, FCC Commissioner:

“We must help combat the pandemic by connecting as many Americans as possible to high-quality, affordable broadband service, as quickly as possible. Even as many of us have taken our daily activities online, tens of millions of Americans have been unable to access or cannot afford the home broadband connections necessary to access telework, medical information, government resources, and distance learning. Back in March, I called for a ‘connectivity stimulus’ with roles for the federal government and the private sector.”

Jessica Rosenworcel, FCC Commissioner:

Now we need policies to fix these problems so that no community in this country is consigned to the wrong side of the digital divide … In this pandemic so much of modern life has migrated online. As a result, it has become painfully clear there are too many people in the United States who lack access to broadband. It has become obvious that our nation’s digital divide is very real and very big…

Everyone needs communications to have a fair shot at 21st century success. It was true before this crisis. But it’s even clearer now. That’s because staying connected means you have a fighting chance at maintaining some semblance of normal life. It’s increasingly essential for work, for school, for healthcare, and so much more.”


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