- Ms. Patricia Cooper, Vice President of Satellite Government Affairs, SpaceX
- Mr. Larry Downes, Project Director, Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy
- Mr. Brian Hendricks, Head of Technology Policy & Public Affairs for the Americas Region, Nokia Corporation
- The Honorable Gary Resnick, Mayor, City of Wilton Manors, Florida
- The Honorable Jeff Weninger, State Representative, Arizona House of Representatives
* Witness list subject to change
Wednesday, May 3, 2017
This hearing will take place in Russell Senate Office Building, Room 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov
Chairman John Thune
This morning, our Committee meets again to explore ways to promote broadband investment and deployment.
Before opening our discussion on infrastructure, I want to take a moment to welcome and thank our friends to the North for joining us today.
Our colleagues from the Canadian House of Commons, serving on the Standing Committee on Industry, Science, and Technology, have joined us today to talk about how our two nations can learn from one another regarding improving broadband connectivity.
The members of this Committee extend a warm welcome to you and we look forward to our continued dialogue on broadband policy.
Improving our nation’s infrastructure is a bipartisan goal that Congress and the Administration share.
In March, we heard from a diverse panel of witnesses who spoke of the issues facing our nation’s infrastructure across several sectors of our economy.
One of our witnesses, Shirley Bloomfield speaking on behalf of NTCA—the Rural Broadband Association, offered insight about the benefits that stem from deploying and modernizing broadband infrastructure.
As we all know, access to broadband is critical to everyday life and is a driving force behind much of the economic growth we’ve experienced over the last two decades.
Particularly in rural areas like South Dakota, keeping up with the demand for access to broadband can be challenging.
Rural communities unfortunately often lag behind their urban counterparts due to more challenging geographies and lower population density.
To address this disparity, a major part of our continuing discussion on improving the nation’s infrastructure should include solutions to reducing any unnecessary hurdles to broadband deployment.
As we look at potential solutions, we must be mindful of the tremendous investment made to deploy these services and look for opportunities to help cut through red tape.
For example, many wireless carriers are already deploying next generation small cells that are the size of a pizza box, thus reducing the need for larger towers and minimizing environmental impact.
To help foster more deployment, we must ensure the regulatory regime in place is reflective of these advances in technology.
Speeding up deployment will also come from eliminating unnecessary red tape and delays.
As my colleagues from Alaska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and other northern States already know, in places like South Dakota, you are lucky if you have a six-month window to undertake the hard work of deploying broadband infrastructure, whether that’s laying fiber, erecting towers, or building satellite earth stations.
This makes any bureaucratic delay in securing permits even more damaging in States like ours.
In South Dakota, for instance, Golden West Telecommunications has to start the permitting process one to two years before it can begin putting fiber in the ground, and sometimes even that is not enough.
In April 2015, Golden West began the process of securing permits to deploy fiber facilities in Custer, a mile-high city in the Black Hills with a population of about 2,000 people.
Due to delays – particularly from the National Forest Service – Golden West didn’t get the necessary approvals until this past November, some 18 months later.
Well, on Monday, it was still snowing in the Black Hills; nevertheless, after more than two years of waiting, Golden West is ready to start digging just as soon as the weather clears.
In the meantime, a multimillion dollar project has been on hold, good jobs have been deferred, and valuable Internet service has been delayed.
Today, I hope we will explore ways to facilitate faster broadband deployment and avoid these unnecessary delays.
We must be cognizant, however, of the role our local communities have in authorizing and managing the deployment of physical infrastructure.
Many businesses serving these communities, like Midco in South Dakota, have developed great partnerships within their footprint, and we as policymakers want to encourage such relationships to thrive.
A good starting point for addressing many of these issues is for the Senate to immediately take up and pass the MOBILE NOW Act, which this committee approved during our first markup in January.
This bipartisan bill would streamline the process of applying for easements, rights of way, and leases for federally-managed property, and would establish a shot clock for review of those applications.
MOBILE NOW would also establish a National Broadband Facilities Asset Database listing government property that could be used by private entities for the purpose of building or co-locating communications facilities.
For all these reasons, it is my hope that in the coming weeks we will finally see Senate passage of the MOBILE NOW Act.
As Congress considers developing legislation to improve the nation’s infrastructure, our discussion here today will help build a constructive record regarding America’s digital infrastructure.
I look forward to hearing from our distinguished panel today and thank you for your willingness to testify.
I will now turn to Senator Nelson for any opening remarks.
Mr. Chairman, today we have another opportunity to talk about the importance of infrastructure to our economy, and in particular, the promise that comes with the next generation of wireless broadband. I am pleased that Gary Resnick, mayor of the great city of Wilton Manors, Florida, will once again join us today to provide an important local government perspective.
It is clear that we are on the brink of a yet another leap forward in wireless communications. Companies like SpaceX are preparing to launch innovative global networks made up of hundreds of satellites in order to provide true high-speed, satellite-based broadband service. Terrestrial wireless companies are focused on deploying next-generation 5G wireless service, which will provide many consumer benefits and likely serve as the backbone for our increasingly-connected economy.
In looking at an infrastructure package, this committee has already talked about the necessity of direct spending for broadband expansion. Today, we look at whether there are other, non-monetary measures Congress could – or should – take to improve our nation’s digital infrastructure.
Everyone – from those of us in the Senate to our mayors and local officials around the country – want Americans to benefit from the availability of robust wireless broadband. Building these networks has always brought up a number of very sensitive issues – from historic preservation and environmental concerns to state and local land use policies, tribal sovereignty, and national security. And the advent of 5G brings with it networks that require installation of much denser wireless infrastructure, made up of many more smaller facilities.
I continue to hope that all stakeholders, including those represented before us today, can work together to help us find ways to effectively balance the competing concerns about siting and construction of wireless facilities and consumers’ increasing demand for fast and reliable wireless broadband services.
With that said, I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.
But before we do that, Mr. Chairman, I’d like to take a brief moment to address a question many have asked me following last week’s announcement by FCC Chairman Pai that he intends to roll back the commission’s net neutrality rules: Where do we, as lawmakers, go from here?
I certainly believe American consumers deserve better. They need to know that we have their back. And they deserve certainty and finality when it comes to their essential right to a truly free and open internet protected by clear, enforceable net neutrality rules.
That lasting finality can only come from legislation, which is why I have been open to finding a true bipartisan solution on this issue. That solution cannot merely pay lip service to net neutrality, but must include real protections for consumers and empower the FCC with flexible, forward-looking authority over broadband providers.
But I’m not naïve. I have always said that net neutrality legislation would not happen overnight – even between members of goodwill who are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and tackle the issue. The reality we’re facing right now is that there are too many folks – from Chairman Pai to stakeholders and lawmakers - that are dug in on this issue, making compromise an impossible task.
Mr. Chairman, I’m an optimist by nature but it’s pretty clear to me that the climate isn’t ripe at the moment for any negotiations that will lead to real, substantive legislation that could garner sufficient bipartisan support.
Witness Panel 1
Ms. Patricia CooperVice President of Satellite Government AffairsSpaceX
Mr. Larry DownesProject DirectorGeorgetown Center for Business and Public Policy
Mr. Brian Hendricksead of Technology Policy & Public Affairs for the Americas RegionNokia Corporation
The Honorable Gary ResnickMayorCity of Wilton Manors, Florida
The Honorable Jeff WeningerState RepresentativeArizona House of Representatives