Chairman Stevens' Opening Statement at the Communications Reform Bill Markup

June 26, 2006

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) gave the following opening statement at the Committee's markup of the Communications, Consumers' Choice, and Broadband Deploayment Act:
Today we mark up the Communications, Consumers’ Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act.  The measure is the work product of every Member of this Committee.  It incorporates suggestions, language, and in some cases entire bills drafted by our members on both sides of the aisle. 
Senator Inouye’s tribal libraries bill is included.  Senator McCain and Inouye provided the video description of the blind title which has been endorsed by the disabilities community.  There are many other provisions in this bill that also benefit the disabled community.
Senator McCain also played a major role along with Senator Lautenberg in crafting the interoperability title.  It reflects their demand that risk and threat be the key factor in allocating resources, although they may seek further refinements.  Senator Rockefeller offered the idea of ensuring that interoperable equipment could function underground in a mine disaster while Senator Burns proposed language to ensure that equipment could function to help firefighters fighting remote forest fires. 
The strategic technology reserve was a concept developed by Senator Inouye, and the bill now sets regional reserves in Boston, Oakland, Bothell, Washington, and Denton, Texas as well as the other FEMA regional offices. 
Senator Kerry introduced the idea of making sure interoperable networks are redundant and the new draft reflects his vision in this area.  Senator Pryor’s experience with my friend, James Lee Witt, in Arkansas, was invaluable in developing the concept of virtual reserves that will not require warehouses full of equipment that will become obsolete, but rather through the use of pre-negotiated contracts with the private sector - an idea also advanced by Senators Ensign, Sununu, and DeMint.  This title now enjoys the support of the First Response Coalition and nearly every major first responder group.
The original municipal broadband title has now been replaced with a compromise developed by Senators Lautenberg, McCain, and Ensign that more closely reflects their original bill.  It now has the endorsement of the National League of Cities, the Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties and other local groups.
The Universal Service title was the product of the bipartisan farm team led by Senators Inouye, Burns, Rockefeller, Lott, Dorgan, Snowe, Ben Nelson, and Pryor.  It includes the Snowe/Rockefeller ADA bill and many concepts from legislation introduced by Senators Burns, Dorgan, and Smith. 
It has been modified based on suggestions from each of those offices as well as ideas to prevent fraud and abuse raised by Senators Ensign, Sununu, and DeMint.  It has the support of the Keep America Connected Coalition which includes the National Cooperative Telecommunications Association, OPASTCO, and many others. 
Senator Bill Nelson offered constructive ideas to make sure the new contribution mechanism does not adversely affect senior citizens, and the broadband fund was a concept developed by Senators Smith and Rockefeller.  Senator Lott made sure we were competitively neutral and that appropriate transition rules were included as we move toward a new and better system. 
Senator Ben Nelson came up with a major concept to ensure in particular that farming and ranching communities will have access to high-speed internet from the tractor to the feedlot.   Senators Lott, Snowe, and Sununu also contributed to this effort to address unique issues in their rural states.
The franchising title has had a major overhaul.  Based on concerns raised by Senators Inouye and Burns, Bill Nelson, Ben Nelson, Pryor, Snowe, and Hutchison in particular, and many others, we spent days meeting with the core group representing local government and made major concessions.  Of the 22 issues they originally raised, we worked out language on 20 of them, and even made some changes in the remaining two - buildout and redlining.  I have filed amendments that reflect the final changes needed to ensure that local government would not oppose the bill.
Coupled with the changes in the municipal broadband section and Interoperability titles, I think it is fair to say that they feel we have made major progress and have met them more than halfway.  I am particularly grateful to Senators Ensign, Rockefeller, and Smith who took up this mantle in the first place and offered invaluable suggestions to improve the final product.  Senators McCain, Lott, DeMint, and Vitter also played important roles in crafting the original bills referred to the Committee. 
We took advantage of Senator Pryor’s expertise as a former attorney general in crafting some of the consumer protection and other enforcement titles.  It is generally consistent with the new law in Texas that has already cut cable rates in some places by 50 percent, and I thank Senator Hutchison for her insight in this area.
Senators Allen and Kerry, as well as McCain, Boxer, Sununu, Dorgan, and of course my Co-chairman, provided the leadership in developing the wireless innovation networks concept.  Their bill was included, which will allow innovators like Intel and Microsoft to use the spectrum from vacant TV channels to offer broadband throughout the country.  They worked closely with NAB and others to address concerns raised about harmful interference.  The committee report will include extensive report language to ensure that the FCC has proper guidance to prevent harmful interference.
Senators Burns, Kerry, and Boxer have been the leads on the child pornography title.  Senators Burns and Kerry will bring proposals to the markup that have been developed in consultation with the FBI and the Center for Missing and Exploited Children.  They were not incorporated in the original draft simply because they also touch on the Judiciary Committee’s jurisdiction, but I have been informed that Senator Kyl, who leads the effort in that Committee, is supportive of these amendments being offered in this forum today.  I am pleased to cosponsor these measures.
Various provisions in the bill have been endorsed by nearly every segment of the communications industry: the US Telephone Association, the National Cable Telecommunications Association, the Cellular Association, the Satellite Association, the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, all of the rural telephone associations, and the National Association of Broadcasters.  A wide variety of high-tech groups support provisions in the bill including the VON Coalition, the Electronics Industry Alliance, the Computing Technology Industry Council, the Information Technology Industry Council, and many others. 
The legislation also enjoys broad support beyond the tech and communications world from groups like the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Chamber of Commerce.  Nearly every first responder group has endorsed the bill along with 33 veterans and military organizations like Gold Star Wives, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the American Legion. 
Blind and disability groups have also given their enthusiastic approval.  Groups such as Jessie Jackson’s Rainbow Push Organization, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the Black Chamber of Commerce, the Latino Coalition, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and a variety of Christian and education groups are also supporting the measure.
Despite all the support and all the work, the bill can still be improved.  It is my hope that we will continue to seek compromise on the tough issues still before us.  Many have filed amendments that we feel may enhance the bill further.
I propose that we go through the bill title by title.  After we complete the amendments in a particular title, I will move to close that title and move on to the next one.  We will keep going until every Member has had a chance to present amendments. 
I do not think that we can complete the markup today.  If we are in session tomorrow with votes, we will reconvene at 10:00 and stay in session until about noon.  If we need to, we will continue Tuesday at 10:00 and keep going throughout the day until we have completed our work.  Senator Rockefeller is expected to rejoin us Tuesday, so we will hold all of his amendments until Tuesday to give him a full opportunity to participate in this debate. 
The video broadcast flag title in the original bill has been replaced with Senator Inouye’s broadcast flag bill verbatim which was originally developed by Senators Smith and Boxer.  Each of the major networks, the National Association of Broadcasters, and the Motion Picture Association of America have endorsed that title.
Senators Boxer and Smith have also played a key role in shaping the audio flag language which is important to the music industry.  I know many members, particularly on my side of the aisle, don’t like the final language, but in the spirit of ensuring that the bill addresses concerns important on both sides of the aisle, it has been included.  It is supported by the Recording Industry Association of America.  Likewise, Senator DeMint’s wireless measure has been incorporated, although it too is not supported by all our Members.