Rockefeller Statement on Wireline Communications

July 25, 2013

JDR Head ShotWASHINGTON, D.C. -- Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller iV today submitted a prepared statement at the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing titled, "State of Wireline Communications".

Today’s hearing on the state of wireline communications affords us an opportunity to take stock of the Nation’s public telephone network.  That network is a source of National pride and ingenuity, and remains the envy of the world.    In fact, one could argue that the public telephone network is a victim of its own success; we only notice the value of this network and its reliability and resiliency when we are forced to compare other communications networks to it.

The principle of “universal access” to communications is one of the basic tenants of the Communications Act of 1934, and it remains as vital today as it was then.  We have reached out and covered nearly everyone – in urban, rural, and even many of the most remote areas of the world based in part to our nation’s fidelity to the principle that all Americans should be able to benefit from the opportunities afforded by access to communications. We must continue to make sure that everyone has available to them the advantages that come with access to modern communications networks.

The Nation’s wireline infrastructure is at the heart of this Nation’s communications system and policy.  Not only does our public telephone network provide a vital voice, data and video service to our nation’s citizens and businesses, it is the backbone on which the nation’s wireless networks also rely.  And allows a consumer in a remote part of West Virginia to pick up the phone and reach anyone in the country.

The success of the nation’s telephone network was not fortuitous.  It came about by a tremendous amount of private investment and innovation and because of sound policy decisions, rooted in the fundamental principles of the Communications Act of 1934, and later the Telecommunications Act of 1996.  And as Americans begin to benefit from the next evolution in wireline technology, I remain convinced that smart regulation and strong consumer protection is as necessary today as it was when the Communications Act was passed almost 80 years ago.

Rural consumers should not be left behind in this transition.  They must have access to next-generation high-speed broadband services.  The need for access to advanced broadband networks throughout the country is one of the reasons I believe it is time to strengthen the E-rate program.  As I said last week, basic Internet connectivity is not sufficient to meet our children’s 21st Century educational needs.  Bringing next-generation high-speed broadband to schools and libraries in rural as well as urban areas is essential to affording students access to tomorrow’s digital education technologies and services.

As we look to the future, we must make sure that comparable communications services are available at comparable rates for everyone in this country, no matter who they are and no matter where they live.  Even as networks evolve and as companies upgrade their technology, the principles undergirding decades of communications law and policy remain.  And it will be up to Congress and the states to make sure that all communications companies comply with the underlying foundations of universal access, consumer protection, competition, and public safety enshrined in our nation’s communications laws.  

I look forward to the testimony from our witnesses today and to their perspectives on the state of wireline communications in the nation, the challenges facing their companies, and how we can achieve our collective goal of bringing advanced communications services to all Americans.