Cantwell: “We must expand high-quality, affordable broadband in underserved and unserved communities”
FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel on Ligado: “We’ve got to iron this kind of stuff out”
WASHINGTON, D.C. –Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, emphasized the need for increased broadband access across the country. Ranking Member Cantwell highlighted the severe gaps in broadband coverage, especially among minority and Tribal communities, and that new programs to promote digital literacy and digital adoption could help close that divide.
“If we were still in any doubt that the COVID crisis has made its impact clear to us, it is very clear today when it comes to the issue of broadband. It is really an essential service,” said Ranking Member Cantwell. “We have a real opportunity here to close the digital divide, but I know it’s going to take being bold. It won’t be accomplished through just incremental change or plus-upping some numbers. It will require significant investment. I know our House colleagues have promised more than $100 billion.”
At least 18 million Americans lack access to broadband, including 12 million children without broadband at home, inhibiting their ability to participate in remote learning. In Washington state, 16 percent of families with children have no access to broadband. Nationally, 31 percent of households on Tribal lands lack access to high-speed broadband compared to 7 percent of households in non-Tribal areas.
Speaking to the importance of closing the homework gap, Ranking Member Cantwell said, “I’m not interested in just applying aggressive laws to industry. I’m interested in making sure millions of children caught in the gap of not being able to do their homework don’t fall further behind. So I am looking for emergency orders by the Commission. And yet, nothing has happened.”
Senator Cantwell also criticized the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s decision to approve Ligado Network’s deployment of a nationwide mobile broadband network, despite widespread concerns that the use of Ligado will cause harmful interference to GPS, essential to critical safety and security operations. Last month, Cantwell joined 31 of her colleagues in a bipartisan letter to the FCC strongly opposing this decision.
In response to a question from Senator Cantwell, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel indicated she would support pausing the FCC’s Ligado approval, telling Senator Cantwell: “… I respect deeply the work of the FCC’s engineers…But I also want to respect you and your point, which is there’s a lot of concern about the continuing viability of GPS as a result of this decision…Out of respect for you and your colleagues who have said that they’re concerned about this, if the Chairman was interested in circulating a decision to us, staying the decision we recently reached on the L-band, that would certainly be something I would support because we’ve got to iron this kind of stuff out if we really want to have a big and bold 5g future.”
Senator Cantwell has long fought for more robust, efficient, and cost-effective broadband connectivity for communities throughout Washington state and the rest of the country. In May, she joined Senator Markey in introducing comprehensive legislation to ensure all students have access to internet during the coronavirus crisis. At the beginning of the year, Cantwell introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure that billions of dollars from a public auction of C-Band spectrum are invested to bridge the digital divide and enable next generation public safety services, and in February, Cantwell introduced legislation to accelerate the deployment of broadband services to Tribal communities. In 2018, Cantwell helped secure $600 million in funding to boost rural broadband development, and before that she worked with the Makah Tribe and CenturyLink to bring broadband access to Neah Bay, one of the most remote parts of Washington state.
Transcripts are available HERE.