WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation announces the following full committee hearing titled Universal Service: Transforming the High-Cost Fund for the Broadband Era.
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Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IVU.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Universal service is a cherished principle. In years past, it has meant that this nation connects every community with basic phone service. But in years ahead, it must mean that we connect our communities with broadband. So today we are going to talk about universal service reform.
We are going to talk about how we should change the system we have at the FCC—and make it work for consumers. We are going to talk about how the agency can better target universal service support to areas in this country that do not have service today. And we are going to talk about how universal service can help provide the broadband and wireless access that is essential for every community to have a fair shot at prosperity in the 21st century.
This is an issue I care deeply about. In West Virginia, one in five households lack access to broadband service. Only 71 percent of the state’s population has access to 3G wireless service. This is profoundly unacceptable. It calls attention to the stark fact that our existing universal service system has simply left parts of rural America behind.
Let me go beyond these statistics and describe to you why I care so much. In April, 29 brave men were killed at the tragic explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine. They were men with a fierce determination to provide for their families. They knew there was danger in every workday, and their families bore this uncertainty with an uncommon grace, year-in and year-out. On top of the devastation we all experienced and the enormous loss by so many, the explosion showed more than just the physical danger in their jobs. It exposed a stunning lack of communications facilities in our rural communities and the challenges this too can cause.
Without wireless phone service available in the hills near the mine, communication and coordination was extraordinarily difficult. Before temporary satellite services were brought in, responders were forced to drive up and down the road half an hour just to make a call and get basic information. The situation was no better for the families. Many of them had to stand in long lines to use two of the three traditional phone lines available in an onsite office. Wives, mothers, siblings and children waited to relay difficult information about the fate of their husbands, fathers, and brothers.
Explosions like what happened at Upper Big Branch may be particular to mining states, but the communications deficit this tragedy exposed is not. The same challenges exist in other rural areas, where the terrible impact of floods, hurricanes, tornados, and even acts of terror, can be made worse still by inadequate communications infrastructure. The residents of rural communities need to know that they have the same access to quality communications as those in more urban areas. That is not just my opinion. It is the law.
In 1996, Congress directed the FCC to make sure that comparable services are available at comparable rates—for everyone in this country, no matter who they are, no matter where they live. This is what our universal service system was designed to do. It is the principle that should guide us, as we seek to update universal service policy to reflect the broadband and wireless challenges of our day.
I want to close by recognizing that this subject is not simple, and updating the universal service system is not easy. But it is enormously important, and it is the right thing to do.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Michael J. CoppsFederal Communications Commission
The Honorable Mignon ClyburnFederal Communications Commission
The Honorable Meredith Atwell BakerFederal Communications Commission
Witness Panel 2
Mr. Jeff GardnerChief Executive OfficerWindstream Communications
Mr. Delbert WilsonGeneral ManagerHill Country Telephone Cooperative
Mr. John GockleyVice President, Legal and Regulatory AffairsUS Cellular Corporation
Mr. Paul WaitsPresidentRitter Communications
Mr. Kyle McSlarrowPresident and Chief Executive OfficerNational Cable and Telecommunications Association