Stevens Floor Speech on Communications Bill

September 21, 2006

The Senate Commerce Committee reported to the Senate a bipartisan bill and it is critical that the Senate considers this bill here on the floor. It is a bill that is good for consumers.

It seeks to reduce phone rates for our troops overseas. It makes available immediately one billion dollars for first responders.  That money was authorized last December and is awaiting distribution. This money will be used for training, coordination and the interoperable equipment to those first responders. This is money they absolutely must have. This bill creates caches of emergency communications equipment that will be located throughout the country.  Equipment which is absolutely necessary in the event of an emergency particularly those caused by terrorist activity in the future.

This bill encourages broadband deployment for consumers. We are behind the world in deployment of broadband.  This bill reduces consumers’ cable rates which is vital to continuing the expanded use of cable in terms of communications. This bill creates choice for consumers for both video and phone service. It is a bill to level the playing field between the various providers of communications capability for all Americans. It broadens the base for Universal Service. This is a concept that makes communications available to rural . It is critical to make this more affordable and make sure the contributions of users of our communications system are as small as possible, but at the same time meets the need so that every American can have available communications. 

I believe that availability of communications is a new right for American citizens; everyone must have the ability to learn of emergencies and to communicate. This bill exempts the Universal Service Fund from the Anti- Deficiency Act. That will be good for our nation’s schools and libraries that rely on Universal Service funding. It is necessary because of the fluctuations in the use of this fund and should not be considered under the Anti-Deficiency Act.  It permits municipalities to offer broadband service throughout in both urban and rural communities. The so called Wi-Fi concept will be expanded.  This bill extends disabilities access requirements for the blind and hearing impaired toVoice Over the Internet Protocol (VOIP). VOIP is a new system and really must be available to those with disabilities as well as all other Americans.

 There is wide support for the Senate Communications Bill.  Several days ago a letter signed by over 100 companies was sent to our leaders and made available.  These are companies involved in the manufacturing, design and construction of communications networks.   These companies expressed support for the bill because it encourages broadband deployment.  They support the bill’s lighter regulatory approach to net neutrality.  I ask unanimous consent that the letter be placed in the record.

There has been much debate on this issue in the Senate Commerce Committee, in House Committees, on the House floor, in the newspapers and in the blogosphere. But some Senators have prevented full debate on this issue on the Senate floor. It is time now for the Senate to allow the debate on this bill to start.