WASHINGTON, January 16, 2020 – Senators raised a grab bag of concerns about broadband mapping, the digital divide, spectrum sharing and online misinformation at a Wednesday hearing featuring top government officials in the communications and technology industries.
Democrat-appointed Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel sparred with her Republican colleague, Commissioner Michael O’Rielly over whether the U.S. was winning the race for deployment of the wireless 5G standard, and what Congress and the FCC should do to expedite 5G.
Rosenworcel said that 5G had only been deployed in urban markets, not rural. She said that the FCC needed to be more active in making mid-band spectrum, such as airwaves in the C-Band from 3.7 GigaHertz (GHz) to 4.2 GHz, to boost higher-speed wireless deployments.
She said dynamic spectrum sharing tools for utilizing the C-Band were ready to deploy and could immediately go to market. She criticized the FCC’s slow pace in making it available.
But O’Rielly pushed back against Rosenworcel’s assertion. He referred to the Citizens Band Radio Service auction of mid-band spectrum at 3.5 GHz, and which is scheduled for June 2020.
Referring to the C-Band, O’Rielly said that there were policy and software complications that delayed the timeline. He also said that 5G deployments – wherever offered on the radio frequency dial – “have the opportunity to revolutionize wireless communication” by supporting 22.3 million jobs and trillions in economic growth.
One general theme animating the senators questioning the witnesses was concern about the digital divide and weaknesses in mapping, which continue to impede broadband deployment.
A broadband map must come first, said Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nevada, or effective deployment cannot begin.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, was concerned about the lack on connectivity in his home state. He questioned the FCC’s ability to deploy broadband in rural communities and said the digital divide between urban and rural American is simply “crazy.”
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., touted a bill he proposed to bring Wi-Fi to rural school buses in an effort to close the homework gap. Rosenworcel agreed that Wi-Fi on school buses would greatly help rural students, as seven in 10 teachers now assign homework that requires internet access.
National Science Foundation Director France Córdova touted the importance of dynamic spectrum sharing of signals spread over large frequencies. Because spectrum is limited and precious, it’s crowded and crucial that none of it be wasted.
She and other witnesses highlighted the ability for Congress and the FCC to authorize tools permitting such dynamic spectrum sharing, supporting Rosenworcel’s emphasis on allowing spectrum sharing in the C-Band.
Córdova also spoke of how the NSF had set up a test bed for dynamic spectrum sharing, underscoring witnesses’ belief in more research on spectrum-sharing.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, asked what could be done to ensure against deepfakes.
Córdova replied that the NSF invests in the research needed to develop unbiased and ethical artificial intelligence. U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios agreed that, with regard to AI, R&D should be the government’s primary focus. Then, it could partner with international allies who will also enforce safe principles of AI.
Córdova expressed concern for a workforce prepared for the industries of the future. While we have technologies to deploy, they will not thrive without a skilled workforce, she said.
Senators Reintroduce Bipartisan Digital Equity Act
Sen. Murray re-introduces bi-partisan that would provide grants to states pushing for digital equity.
June 14, 2021– Three Senators have introduced legislation that would provide grants to states that create digital equity plans.
The proposed legislation, reintroduced on Thursday by Patty Murray, D-Washington, Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Angus King, I-Maine, would set-aside $60 million to establish a State Digital Equity Capacity Grant within the Department of Commerce that would “promote the achievement of digital equity, support digital inclusion activities, and build capacity for efforts by States relating to the adoption of broadband by residents of those States.”
The funds from the Digital Equity Act in the Senate would be made available to all states, foundations, corporations, institutions, or agencies. The bill was first introduced by Murray in 2019.
Each state will receive a different grant amount depending on a formula that includes population and access to broadband across the state, to be spent within 5 years of receipt.
In addition to funding for states, the bill creates a $125-million Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program. This program is also for state agencies and institutions but is more specifically geared toward those that are responsible for “adult education and literacy activities.”
A final pillar of the bill is to create more infrastructure and resources for future development of policies that will continue to promote a bridging of the digital divide.
During a press conference on the bill, Murray told the Broadband Breakfast that she believes the bill will be successful because it gives states and local communities the ability to decide what their needs are. “We cannot dictate that in D.C.,” she remarked.
When asked why the bill will create more permanent solutions, she stated that it, “Provides for the diversity of needs that are going to continue to be out there.”
The senators co-sponsoring the bill said they are confident it will make its way into any infrastructure legislation passed by Congress.
Senate Committee Hears High Symmetrical Internet Speeds, Up-To-Date Technologies For Future Of Rural America
NTCA’s Shirley Bloomfield on driving improvements for rural broadband.
May 19, 2021– The head of the NTCA — Rural Broadband Association told a Senate Finance Committee that there are a number of improvements that can be made to broadband services and infrastructure for rural Americans, including higher symmetrical internet speeds, up-to-date network technologies, and better coordination of government funding to avoid overbuilding.
Shirley Bloomfield provided six different types of actions at Tuesday’s hearing that the government should take to improve broadband coverage in rural markets.
Bloomfield’s first suggestion was to build networks to last. She argued that building networks that provide insufficient speeds or utilize technology that is already outdated will not be sufficient to address the broadband needs of the future generation. During her testimony, Bloomfield specifically voiced support for 100 Mbps symmetrical service.
“We have a once in a generation opportunity—on the investment side—to do this right—to aim higher and to do better,” she said.
Her second suggestion was to take steps to limit overbuilding. To do this, she suggested that state and local governments coordinate with existing programs that provide mapping and funding for broadband projects. She clarified during her testimony that those without broadband service need to be prioritized before those with insufficient broadband service. She argued that the best way to do this would be ensuring that there is coordination with federal and state regulatory bodies with access to mapping data.
Bloomfield’s third suggestion was that network maintenance must be prioritized, and that modern networks will only stay modern and efficient if they are kept working and up to date.
Bloomfield also recommended clearer standards for broadband providers and that un(der)served rural communities should not be treated as “test labs” for new technologies. She stated that technologies should not be deployed until they have been sufficiently tested and established as viable strategies to serve communities in need of broadband. This includes not just the current needs of the communities in question, but also the projected needs of future generations.
Her sixth recommendation was to encourage consumers to look for local ISPs to provide broadband service. She noted that these smaller, local ISPs have cultivated relationships with the communities they serve, and those who work for the ISP often live among those they serve. She stated that it is this intimate connection that has allowed them to navigate the unique issues that these rural communities face.
Finally, Bloomfield encouraged the Committee to push for lower barriers to entry for broadband expansion projects, stating that bureaucracy and costs associated with many projects are simply too high. She also stated that a concerted effort must be made to sure-up supply chain issues that are currently applying significant pressure to ISPs and hampering expansion.
President Trump’s FCC Nominee Grilled on Section 230 During Senate Confirmation Hearing
November 10, 2020 — Members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation grilled President Donald Trump’s proposed nominee to the Federal Communications Commission, Nathan Simington, on his stance on the FCC’s jurisdiction to interpret Section 230, during a nominations hearing on Tuesday.
While there were two other nominees for federal agency’s present to testify, members of the Committee directed the majority of their questions to Simington, which he mostly attempted to deflect, saying he needed more internal information to answer.
Nate Simington, a very smart and qualified individual, is having his Senate hearing today. Republicans will hopefully confirm him to the FCC ASAP! We need action NOW on this very important nomination!! @SenatorWicker @MarshaBlackburn @senatemajldr
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 10, 2020
“During your time working at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, you effectively acted as an arm of the president,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., highlighting Simington’s active involvement in crafting the Commerce Department’s petition to the FCC to force the agency to re-interpret Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
“Trump’s tweet makes it clear what he expects from you, which I think should deeply trouble us all,” said Blumenthal, referencing the president’s tweet to Committee Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, and others, before the hearing, which called for them to act now on Simington’s “important nomination” by confirming him to the FCC as soon as possible.
Many doubted Simington’s nomination would be confirmed by January, but Tuesday’s hearing introduced a new sense of urgency behind the nomination. The tweets-in-real-time promotion by Trump seemed raise the specter pushing a confirmation – as with the Supreme Court – that, at least in the president’s mind, would bear upon decision-making in the wake of the election.
“The FCC should remain free from political interference,” said Blumenthal, adding that the agency may diminish its independence and become a tool of the outgoing president for the next 70 days.
Simington said he has not had discussions with White House about Section 230
Simington said early on in the questioning session that he supports the FCC’s jurisdiction to clarify Section 230 rulemaking, as proposed by Chairman Ajit Pai in mid-October.
“I do think Section 230 needs to be reformed,” said Simington. He said that he has not had any discussion with the White House on Section 230 legislative proposals.
While Blumenthal demanded that Simington commit to not voting on Section 230 rulemaking, Simington said he believed that such a pledge would be premature to make. However, Simington did promise his first action if nominated would be to talk the issue over with the FCC’s ethics counsel.
Simington promised to work to maintain a “free and open internet” in response to a question from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, questioning his views on what Cruz called “censorship” by big tech companies. He maintained that censorship is “primarily not the concern of the FCC.”
During his opening statement, Simington committed to four values he intends to defend, if confirmed: Regulatory stability through vigorous competition, universal connectivity, national security, and public interest.
While Simington said he would fight for universal connectivity and the public good, he refused to commit to extending the FCC’s temporary interpretation of the E-Rate Program, which is currently enabling educational institutions to use federal funds to increase the internet access available to students who have been sent home.
“I’m troubled by your lack of specificity on expanding the E-Rate Program,” said Blumenthal in response.
Withdrawl of Michael O’Rielly’s nomination and background of Simington
Before his nomination, Nathan Simington was a senior adviser at the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the president’s policy arm for telecommunications policy.
In addition to his work at NTIA, Simington previously worked at the law firms of Mayer Brown, Kirkland and Ellis, and Chapman and Cutler.
Simington was nominated on September 16 to fill a vacancy after the White House withdrew Commissioner Michael O’Rielly’s nomination to serve another term at the FCC.
President Trump withdrew O’Rielly’s nomination on August 3, after the commissioner made comments expressing doubts over proposals that the FCC target social media companies for the way they regulate content.
If confirmed, Simington would fill the seat that will be vacated by O’Rielly, who has been on the commission since 2013. Both are Republicans, but O’Rielly told C-SPAN in July the he held deep reservations over proposals to target social media platforms for the way that they curate their content.
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