U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate 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 24, 2020. The hearing will provide members an opportunity to examine policy issues before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and review the agency’s 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 24, 2020
Full Committee Hearing
This hearing will take place in the Russell Senate Office Building 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
*In order to maintain physical distancing as advised by the Office of the Attending Physician, seating for credentialed press will be limited throughout the course of the hearing. Due to current limited access to the Capitol complex, the general public is encouraged to view this hearing via the live stream.
Chairman Roger Wicker
The FCC is the nation’s primary regulator of interstate and international communications networks. A core part of the agency’s mission is to ensure that all people in the United States have access to rapid, efficient, and nationwide communications services at reasonable prices. Never before has the FCC’s responsibility to achieve this mission been more important.
The COVID-19 public health emergency has put a spotlight on the nation’s communications networks and the American people’s access to broadband services. Since March, there has been a dramatic and sustained surge in internet usage. But, U.S. networks have performed well, and we are faring much better than other countries in meeting this increased demand.
This is to be applauded, but there is still more work to be done – of course. Today, there are far too many Americans who remain unserved and who lack affordable access to any broadband connection whatever.
I appreciate the FCC’s continued efforts, under Chairman Pai’s leadership, to close the digital divide and secure U.S. leadership in next-generation communications technologies, especially during this pandemic. Through the Commission’s Keep Americans Connected pledge, over 700 providers have voluntarily committed not to terminate broadband services to any residential or small business customers because of an inability to pay their bills. This has been pivotal in keeping many Americans connected.
Clearly, the businesses who participated in the pledge cannot sustain that effort indefinitely. We need to engage in a thoughtful debate about ways to transition from the pledge when it expires.
In addition, I welcome the FCC’s work on the newly-created COVID-19 Telehealth Program authorized by the bipartisan CARES Act. This program is designed to provide access to critical, lifesaving telehealth services to Americans who lack access to quality care during this global health crisis.
Today’s hearing is an opportunity for Commissioners to discuss what more can be done to expand broadband access and digital opportunity for all Americans.
This work begins with the implementation of the Broadband DATA Act. As I have said many times, accurate broadband maps are essential to targeting Universal Service Funds (USF) and other federal broadband resources to unserved areas and communities in need. To ensure the success of new USF programs, such as the 5G Fund, it is imperative that the FCC develop accurate broadband maps with more precise data about where broadband is available and where it is not – and at what speeds.
I hope the Commissioners will outline what funding will be necessary to comply with the law before moving forward with the 5G Fund. I appreciate Commissioner O’Rielly’s commitment to this Committee last week that he would not support moving forward with the 5G Fund until the FCC completes the new maps required by the Broadband DATA Act.
In addition to developing accurate maps, Congress needs to explore the feasibility of allocating more resources for broadband deployment to areas that are not economical to serve or to families who have experienced economic hardship as a result of the pandemic.
I look forward to discussing the Accelerating Broadband Connectivity Act –which I have authored -- which would incentivize providers to expedite broadband build-out plans without undermining or delaying the RDOF auction. I hope Commissioners will also discuss ways to provide immediate connectivity relief to schools and students, minority communities, and families experiencing economic hardship because of the coronavirus.
Another important part of making broadband universally available is having a regulatory framework that fosters investment and promotes broadband deployment.
I am sure the Commissioners will want to discuss the recent adoption of the 5G Upgrade Order, which modernizes rules for the installation of wireless communications equipment, as well as other efforts to streamline regulatory processes that can delay or indefinitely stall broadband deployment in too many communities across the country. I appreciate Commissioner Carr’s leadership on the 5G Upgrade Order.
As Americans rely increasingly on their internet connections to engage in professional, educational, health-care, and personal activities, it is vital that we ensure the security of our networks and supply chains. Any comprehensive broadband legislation should include network and supply chain security, including full funding for the FCC’s newly authorized “rip and replace” program.
I hope Commissioners will discuss funding needs for that critical program and other plans to increase network security and reliability.
Finally, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is intended to preserve a vibrant and competitive online marketplace for the benefit of all Americans. Section 230 protects “interactive computer services”, such as social media platforms, from being held liable for the content posted by their users. Section 230 also specifically allows interactive computer services to restrict access to or the availability of content that it considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable.
I am deeply troubled by recent reports that suggest some online platforms are disproportionately censoring conservative voices or posing an unfair bias through their policies and terms of service.
Last week, The Federalist, an online magazine, was notified that its publication would be removed from Google’s advertising platform because of complaints from NBC News about content in The Federalists’ comment section. The information I have is that the comments contained on the site were indeed derogatory and impermissible. However, policing offensive content is one thing. Threatening the demonetization of an entire site is quite another.
And just yesterday, we learned of comments by Facebook moderators that seem to confirm a blatant anti-conservative bias.
If there is to be a debate over the future of Section 230, it is clear that each side has a responsibility to ensure that the internet remains a forum for a “true diversity of political discourse” that promotes competition and innovation. This Committee will evaluate the merits of Section 230 and whether modifications are necessary to promote more transparency and accountability across internet platforms and services.
Clearly there is much to discuss today. I thank the Commissioners again for their testimonies.
Ranking Member Maria Cantwell
U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell
Opening Statement at the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Hearing titled “Oversight of the Federal Communications Commission”
Witnesses: 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
June 24, 2020
CANTWELL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important and timely hearing, and it’s good to see all the commissioners here in person, a rare opportunity for sure. The full FCC comes before us today at what I think is a pivotal moment. 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.
And yet millions of Americans remain trapped on the other side of the digital divide. The statistics are well-known, but no less damning. At least 18 million Americans without access to broadband, and even that number may well be artificially low. 12 million children currently lack access to broadband at home, prohibiting their ability to learn remotely. And as we have uncertainty about what the Fall and beyond will bring, it’s imperative that we deal with this issue. In the state of Washington, 16 percent of families with children have no access to broadband. 31 percent of households on tribal lands lack access to high-speed broadband compared to 7 percent in non-tribal areas
So we must expand high-quality, affordable broadband in underserved and unserved communities so that Americans who are being isolated can effectively endure during this pandemic, and learn remotely, and I would also say, have access to healthcare. It is so critical that rural communities increase the ability to use broadband as a tool to help deliver medicine at this critical time.
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.
But we have to make sure to our low-income, minority and Tribal communities that connectivity is an issue we do address. We need to invest in programs that will promote digital literacy and digital adoption, targeting these marginalized communities. So I hope that this can be part of our discussion today.
Chairman Pai, I wrote on March 5 and asked for consideration of the FCC’s existing authority and programs, as well as temporary policies or rule waivers, could be used to help ensure the nation was being well served during the COVID crisis. Specifically, I asked what take-home emergency actions to facilitate at-home connectivity for students to keep in class remote schoolwork were being done during the COVID crisis.
So, 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.
So, I’m concerned about spectrum as well. I know we’re in a very high-profile, public dispute, but the FCC has sided against federal experts on weather forecasting, aviation, transportation safety, and national security. It would be tempting to dismiss these public disputes as just another sign of internal chaos with the administration. But I believe it is more than that. It seems to me that the agency has narrowed its interest in the standard for public broadband policy. Today, the FCC dismisses national priorities and defaults to the belief that the highest and best use of spectrum is always terrestrial broadband.
Nowhere is this development more obvious than the Ligado decision. Despite unified opposition from executive branch agencies, aerospace industries, and others, Ligado would cause harm to the GPS spectrum critical to safety operations. Despite a fundamental disagreement over competing studies, of which there were many, the FCC continued to move forward. So I hope today we can also discuss this issue. I believe that the FCC should not be the place to just move forward but the place to have the discussion and make sure these issues are well addressed. It is important that these issues move forward and are addressed by the many interests of the spectrum. Because this issue of spectrum is not going to go away, it’s going to become even more in demand.
And if you think you’re just the default agency to make a decision and exacerbate the problem, you can see it hasn’t gone away. It’s just moved over to the Armed Services Committee. So I would ask you today to think about how we’re going to do a better process given the increased need for spectrum in the future.
So Mr. Chairman, I know there are many other issues that we want to discuss today, but with that I’ll leave my remarks and ask that—I do have to go to the floor, but I will return for questions at some point in time. If I miss my cue, I’m sure my colleague Senator Blumenthal or others will jump in in my absence. But again, I thank the commissioners for being here in person.
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