U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing titled, “Oversight of the Federal Communications Commission,” at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, June 12, 2019. As part of the Committee’s oversight responsibilities, this hearing will examine policy issues before the Federal Communications Commission and review its ongoing activities and proceedings.
- The Honorable Ajit Pai, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission
- The Honorable Michael O’Rielly, Commissioner, Federal Communications Commission
- The Honorable Brendan Carr, Commissioner, Federal Communications Commission
- The Honorable Jessica Rosenworcel, Commissioner, Federal Communications Commission
- The Honorable Geoffrey Starks, Commissioner, Federal Communications Commission
*Witness list subject to change
Wednesday, June 12, 2019
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
This hearing will take place in the Dirksen Senate Office Building G50. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
Chairman Roger Wicker
Good morning. Welcome to today’s hearing on the “Oversight of the Federal Communications Commission.” I am glad to convene this hearing with my friend and colleague, Ranking Member Cantwell. I welcome our distinguished panel of witnesses and thank all of them for appearing. Today we will hear from:
- FCC Chairman Ajit Pai;
- Commissioner Mike O’Rielly;
- Commissioner Brendan Carr;
- Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel; and
- Commissioner Geoffrey Starks
One of the FCC’s most important responsibilities is to promote the expansion of competitive telecommunications and broadband networks across the United States. Under Chairman Pai’s leadership, the Agency has taken steps to close the digital divide in rural America.
The Commission has promoted investment and innovation by addressing outdated rules and regulations and has also taken steps to enhance public safety, protect consumers, and improve transparency into Agency actions. I commend the FCC and its efforts, but note, as we would all agree, that more work remains.
That work starts with closing the digital divide once and for all. Access to broadband is essential. Through internet connectivity, Americans can access jobs, education, economic opportunities, good health, and entertainment. For too long, Americans across the nation have gone without access to reliable, high-speed internet service simply because they live in the rural heartland.
In previous hearings, we have discussed how inaccurate maps have contributed to the persistent broadband gap. It is clear to me that short of a completely new approach to developing accurate and reliable maps, the FCC should not move forward on broadband funding decisions until it gets the maps right.
As a first step to improving the nation’s broadband maps, last month I introduced the “Broadband Interagency Coordination Act” with Senator Klobuchar. This legislation would improve coordination among federal agencies that administer broadband deployment programs. It would also facilitate information gathering among the FCC, the NTIA, and the Department of Agriculture concerning broadband availability throughout the United States.
Increased coordination will help target broadband resources to unserved areas and communities that lack access to internet services.
Today, I will introduce the “Broadband DATA Act” with Senators Peters, Thune, and Klobuchar. This legislation would build upon better coordination among federal agencies and would require the FCC to collect more granular data about where wired, fixed wireless, and satellite broadband is available and where it is not.
I am sure the Commissioners will want to discuss today what the FCC is doing to collect more accurate data about broadband availability and how the Commission is verifying the data submitted by carriers. I also hope the Chairman will provide a status update on the Mobility Fund Phase II program and discuss how the recently announced $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund will be used to close the digital divide.
We must solve the problem and do so without further delays.
The FCC’s work also includes ensuring American leadership in 5G, which is critical for the continued economic well-being and security of the United States. The Commission has made real progress in bringing spectrum to market to foster the development of next-generation networks.
Mid-band spectrum is particularly important to the initial deployment of 5G. But the United States currently lags behind our competitors in the availability of mid-band spectrum.
This morning’s hearing is an opportunity for Commissioners to discuss the FCC’s efforts to speed up the availability of mid-band spectrum for 5G and whether they believe Congressional action is necessary to advance the Commission’s work in this area.
Winning the race to 5G is dependent on the security of the nation’s communications networks. I recently introduced bipartisan legislation, “The United States 5G Leadership Act,” with Senators Cotton, Warner, Markey, and Sullivan. This legislation would provide relief to providers that need to replace foreign equipment that may present a national security risk. The legislation would help improve information sharing among national security agencies and communications providers to address immediate threats to network security.
I look forward to hearing what more the Commission and the entire federal government might do to improve security in the next-generation of telecommunications infrastructure.
Finally, let me commend the Commission for taking steps to expand telemedicine in rural areas through its proposed $100 million Connected Care Pilot Program. This program is inspired by the University of Mississippi Medical Center, which is a national trailblazer in telehealth. The Commission’s focus on expanding connectivity through this program can help reduce the cost of care and improve patient outcomes, especially among the nation’s most underserved populations.
Clearly there is much to discuss today. I look forward to hearing testimony from the Commissioners and thank them for appearing.
I will now turn to my good friend from the State of Washington. Senator Cantwell.
Ranking Member Maria Cantwell
Thank you Chairman Wicker, and thank you for holding this important hearing and having the FCC commissioners before us today. We’ve had two and a half of the last years, which I think a lot of the important issues that affect consumers before the FCC have been challenged, and I would say eviscerated, as opposed to the consumer interests that have been pushed forward.
Last year, more than 20 million Americans wrote asking you to protect a free and open internet. And instead, net neutrality protections for consumers were repealed. Don’t worry, big cable companies will do the right thing by you. And just last week, in my own state, Comcast was ordered to pay $9.1 million in fines for deceptive practices that affected 50,000 Washingtonians.
And since the repeal of net neutrality, some wireless and broadband companies already appear to be testing ways to undermine the free and open internet. Wireless carriers have been accused of potentially throttling subscribers to Netflix and YouTube, CenturyLink temporarily blocked access to the internet in Utah to force consumers to watch ads, Sprint allegedly interfered with competitive Skype services using wireless networks. So these are all questions that I will definitely be following up on in our Q&A section.
But time and time again, big cable companies have prioritized their bottom lines over the fair treatment of consumers and the internet economy, and we want to know that you are on the front line of consumer interests.
When scientists and weather experts from outside and inside the Trump administration warned that actions on spectrum could harm forecasting, their concerns were ignored. Peer-reviewed science research has concluded that without key vapor data that could vanish due to actions on where spectrum has been allocated, that this could impact our weather forecasting.
And despite the correct forecasting – if you consider what Sandy impacted, hundreds of lives and $70 billion, getting that forecast wrong would have been deadly. I want to thank Chairman Wicker for agreeing to hold a hearing on this topic in the near future, because I think it needs to be addressed in more detail. I also want to make sure that we are clear today: we are not going to allow this vital information to be jeopardized in the future.
We have also heard, at a time when motor vehicle accidents claim more than 37,000 lives in the United States each year, that the FCC is pushing to open up key spectrum that jeopardizes the promise of new technologies in this particular area that could prevent as many as 80 percent of these actions.
So, just like spectrum, and its important use in transportation, weather, launch forecasting, also the chairman mentioned broadband. So we all agree that we need to make more access to internet broadband equitable to Americans. He mentioned the issue that is so important to all of us, and that is rural telemedicine. But if we’ve failed at the FCC to collect accurate data about who has access to broadband, and we don’t have the right information, how can we ever fix the problem? I know the FCC wants to put a cap on universal service, the most successful broadband deployment in the nation’s history, because they refuse to make the hard decisions about how to appropriately fund it.
So I hope that we will hear about real solutions today, and how we get through these challenging times and make sure we are protecting the public interest. I know that in an information age we are going to continue to grow and new products and services are going to be there, but we also have to make sure we are aggressive about doing our jobs and protecting that interest on behalf of the consumer.
Thank you Mr. Chairman.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Ajit PaiChairmanFederal Communications Commission
The Honorable Michael O’RiellyCommissionerFederal Communications Commission
The Honorable Brendan CarrCommissionerFederal Communications Commission
The Honorable Jessica RosenworcelCommissionerFederal Communications Commission
The Honorable Geoffrey StarksCommissionerFederal Communications Commission