Rockefeller Urges Wheeler to Strengthen E-Rate at FCC

June 18, 2013

JDR Head ShotWASHINGTON, D.C.-- Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV today gave an opening statement at the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing on the nomination of Mr. Thomas Wheeler to be Chairman, Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Below are his prepared remarks:

Mr. Wheeler, when confirmed, you will lead an agency that has the most challenging and complicated issues pending since the Commission implemented the 1996 Telecommunications Act.  I do not say this lightly.  The decisions the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) makes under your leadership will shape the future of the Nation’s telephone network, public safety, the wireless industry, broadcasting, the Internet, and consumer protection for years to come.  

Of all the pending issues before the Commission, one current proceeding – and one future rulemaking – are of utmost importance to me.  The incentive auction proceeding will create the revenues to fund a nationwide interoperable public safety network -- a pressing national need, and personal goal of mine, since September 11th.  

The E-Rate program has connected millions of school children to the Internet exposing them to the transformational power of information.  As I called for several months ago and the President echoed in his recent remarks in North Carolina, the FCC can help to make sure our schools and libraries can meet the data and connectivity needs necessary for today – and the future.  Updating the E-Rate program to meet the needs of the 21st Century is necessary for our children and national competitiveness.  

Seeing the culmination of these two initiatives is my highest priority.  I hope it will be yours as well.  Too much is at stake in these proceedings not to get them right.  If the sheer magnitude and complexity of these issues was not enough, you face an agency that has become increasingly polarized and politicized.  Some even question its relevance in a digital age.  But, I think the agency is more important than ever. 

At its core, the FCC is a regulatory agency.  I believe that too many have forgotten that the agency’s fundamental responsibility is the regulation of communications networks.  These regulations serve important policy goals.  You cannot have universal service without regulation.  You cannot ensure competition without regulation.  You cannot have consumer protection without regulation.  

Let me be clear, even as communications networks evolve and technology advances, the FCC’s mission does not.  The rules and regulations we have in place now may not be the rules we need for the future, but that certainly does not mean we should not have any, as so many in the industry seem to advocate. 

I think that we can all agree that:  

  • The rules the agency needs to adopt should create the conditions so that every American no matter where they live has access to broadband.  
  • The rules the agency needs to adopt should guarantee that every child in America can harness the power of the Internet.  And, do it safely. 
  • The rules that the agency needs to adopt should empower consumers with the information they need to make informed choices.  
  • The rules the agency needs to adopt should continue to create the conditions for job creation, innovation, and investment.  

The FCC under the leadership of Chairman Genachowski made progress on achieving these goals.  But, much work remains to be done.  New challenges will emerge.  As I advised Chairman Genachowski, the FCC Chairman must be more than the arbiter of industry interests.  You must use the vast statutory authority to advocate for the public interest, the consumer, the parent, the student – all those without an army of advocates to lobby on their behalf.  

You will bring to the job a long history and distinguished career in the communications industry.  As a pioneer in the cable and wireless industries, you have been instrumental in the growth of both these critical sectors.  As an entrepreneur, you built businesses and created jobs.  Most importantly, you understand the power of technology – how it has already transformed our lives and how it will continue to do so each day.  

Your career is one of innovation, leadership and public service.  I believe that as Chair of the FCC you can use your experience and skills to harness the vast power of the FCC to spur universal deployment of advanced technologies, foster growth and innovation, and protect consumers.