WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) today addressed company representatives and state/regional cable association executives at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association's Key Contacts Breakfast. Chairman Stevens spoke generally on a range of telecom reform topics, including decency, franchise reform, and net neutrality.
The following is the text of Chairman Stevens’ speech as delivered:
Thank you very much, Kyle. I’m delighted to see so many people here and to have a chance to visit with you about what we’re trying to do on the Commerce Committee. I hope you have met my two bosses here – Lisa Sutherland and Christine Kurth. They are doing the majority of the work on the communications bill. And I hope we can start off on the right foot by saying this is a communications bill. It is not a telecommunications bill. It is a communications bill covering everybody and trying to level the playing field. But there are still going to be separate playing fields, so we’ll see how it goes.
Let me tell you Kyle, I really appreciate that introduction. And I can tell you that your industry is in good hands, because Kyle has been a strong and effective advocate. He has appeared before our Committee so many times, he has a seat there with his name on it now. He and your industry have participated and worked with us in a very constructive way. We’ve been through the digital transition debate last year and these discussions on communications reform. As he mentioned, we’ve had a lot to do with the decency issue. We had a day-long “Decency Summit” and I think it has led to some greater understanding of what the problems really are in that area.
But having been a regular now at these hearings and testifying as a witness, I think you should realize that as a result of Kyle’s contributions your industry has really taken the lead in this innovation for our country and we appreciate that very much. After all, you do have a collective $100 billion investment of private capital in deploying your two-way fiber optic networks. And your rollout of high-speed Internet service throughout the nation spurred competition and I think that is a big win for consumers. What we’re trying to do is make sure that this industry continues to provide the thousands of well-paying jobs for Americans, which have helped fuel our economy, and I think it is still expanding.
The work of your non-profit education association, “Cable in the Classroom” has been outstanding, really. It has provided a valuable education regarding blocking technologies for parents, as Kyle mentioned. There are a great many people who are worried about indecent programming for their children. I am one of those unreconstructed fathers that when television came to Alaska I told my wife, “Nope. There is not going to be a television in our house. We want our kids to study.” So everything went along pretty well for about two or three months, and the mayor, who lived just two doors away from me, one day said, “Ted, what the hell are your kids doing in my house all the time?” He said, “I come home from work and there they are sprayed out all in my living room. You can’t walk across them. You’ve got five kids. I’ve got seven. There’s not room in this house for so many kids. Why don’t you buy yourselves a television?” So we did that, but I understand the concern of parents, and I think we all should understand the concern of parents about indecent programming.
But as Kyle mentioned, along with Jack Valenti, you’ve helped pave the way to bring about an understanding of the problem and to help parents understand that they are the key to the problem. And this educational campaign to train parents on how to use blocking technologies is essential to what we are doing now. The decency bill has passed, and that increases the fines. But there are many people that want it to do more in terms of finding some way to have government regulate what children see rather than having parents regulate what children see. I think these public service announcements that you’re going to show later this month will lead parents to understand that this is a parental problem, not a government problem. But let me tell you, don’t belittle the attitude and the work of those people working for the parents. They’ve been very cooperative. They’ve understood what we’re trying to do. They still don’t think we’re going to be able to achieve the goal we can achieve through the work that Jack Valenti and your industry is doing. I do think it will work, and we’ll just have to wait and see.
Work on the Communications, Consumers’ Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act is continuing. I think our bill, S. 2686, has been the focus of the Committee hearings. Our Committee, since I became Chair, has held six what we call listening sessions. In that we asked industry to just come and talk to us so we better understand the issues and the technology problems. We’ve also now held 26 hearings on this bill. Many people are starting to say that they haven’t had enough hearings. Most of them haven’t attended the hearings that we held. That’s the problem. Our bill, really the work of those hearings and sessions, was introduced on May 1st. Since then, we’ve held two additional hearings. We’re going to hold another hearing next Tuesday. We have received hundreds, if not thousands, of comments, including those from many individuals here in your industry. Those comments have been extremely helpful as we seek ways to improve the bill. We are listening and we’ve made major changes. You’re going to see that in the next version of the bill. My staff and I have tried to work with the other Members of our Committee. Staff held several bi-partisan briefings on this bill and has corresponded and met with every Committee Member’s office on each side of the aisle. And we’ve received constructive suggestions and comments from many of them.
One area where there has been much discussion is the concern of local governments. They expressed them to the Committee at out first legislative hearing in May, their concerns about the provision in our first bill. In response to their concerns, I’ve asked my staff to work with local government, with USTA, and NCTA to seek a compromise on franchise reform. With the many hours that your representatives and the local government representatives have spent with our staffs, I think have really brought us to the point where we believe that we have ways to incorporate legislative language in the next draft of the bill that meets most people’s desires. It’s going to be a compromise area. There’s no question about that, but I do believe that we’re going to be able to do what I said in the beginning -- create a level playing field, between cable and the Bells, encourage competition and the deployment of broadband, and in the process, create even more jobs as we go along. To strike a balance and level that playing field, this bill provides cable operators with interconnection rights. This new right is important to your industry and I think it will give you a very important role in the voice business.
You know, I believe we are creating a new right for Americans and that is that every American should be able to be connected to this system that we have all grown to use so much – the net system. And no sector of the industry should be allowed to impede that right. Now if we all can agree that there is such a right, I think we will get this bill passed, and I think it will be a bill that will last. Don’t forget -- I sat through so many hearings in my early days in the Senate with Senator Pastore reviewing the 1934 Act. It lasted until ’96. The ’96 Act, which we thought was really revolutionary, is really to the point where I don’t really think there is any disagreement – we have to do something about the federal legislation now. It’s only been 10 years. I do believe that what we’re trying to do it right.
Our bill includes down conversion authority which I realize is an important piece to your industry as we move closer to the digital transition date in 2009.
Net neutrality is the issue and it has attracted a great deal of attention. I know that your industry has a particular interest in this subject. I included a provision in the draft bill to require the FCC to monitor the marketplace and literally raise a red flag if they think there is anti-competitive behavior starting in the industry. I think we are dealing with a fear in terms of net neutrality. And I take credit or blame, whatever you want to say, for the original provision because some people like it and others people think it just stinks, really. It’s a tough thing to deal with.
We began with this neutral provision so we could move towards finding some way to answer questions regarding net neutrality. And I felt it would be difficult to legislate to fix a “problem” before Congress really understood what the problem is. The more I seek to find what the problem is the harder job I have of trying to define it. Many Members do not believe the provision in the existing bill goes far enough. We are trying now to find that language that will make Members on each side of this issue comfortable to vote for the bill. That doesn’t mean that it’s going to really be what many people want, and I think the compromise should and will focus on protecting the needs and rights of consumers, preserving network management, and staying away from the commercial interaction between companies that I refer to, that is so large, as a battle of the titans, when they get into a fight. I see no reason why we should use government lawyers to try and referee a fight between billion and billion dollar entities that are disputing their rights with one another. I think the FCC should be there to protect the consumer and to ensure that there is a level playing field for everybody. And let’s let competition, if it leads to a fight, then it’s still competition as far as I’m concerned.
A new draft will be circulated this week. I can’t go into the details with you today because I’m still clearing it with Senator Inouye. He’s my partner, my brother, and we work closely together. He has views that aren’t quite mine, however, so we do have to find ways to come together, even the two of us who are Co-Chairmen of our Committee. I do believe I can tell you that there is no question that it will be reflective of the constructive ideas, as I started out to tell you, that Kyle and your industry as brought to us. I think this bill will be the communications act that will last for a long time if we’re sure to have the framework that allows real competition, but does not provide a traffic cop at every intersection. Competition should be the thing we’re trying to preserve and I believe competition will protect the consumer in the final result.
Thank you very much.