Chairman Rockefeller's Remarks on Oversight of the Broadband Stimulus Programs in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

October 27, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Broadband can help us reinvigorate our communications networks in this new century.
With these new networks we can make a difference in people’s lives—change education, improve health care, shore up business and employment opportunities, and foster a new and more democratic dialogue.
These are all good things. 
That’s why I fought to make sure that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included programs to support broadband in our communities.
Sometimes it pays to be tenacious. 
Our fight for broadband led to $7.2 billion in stimulus funding for high-speed projects across the country. 
It tasked the Federal Communications Commission with drafting a plan to help criss-cross this country with high-speed lines and deliver broadband from the heart of inner cities to the soul of rural towns all across America. 
I believe this law sets us on the right road. 
But make no mistake. If we want these programs to succeed, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Rural Utilities Service, and the FCC must address critical challenges ahead.
Let me consider them in turn.
First, we have the Broadband Technologies Opportunity Program at the NTIA.
This is an extraordinary undertaking.  Demand for the $4.7 billion allocated to this program is high.  But the rules governing it are complex. 
I believe that to be fair to applicants, we need to find a way to simplify the process going forward.
Second, we have the Broadband Initiatives Program at the RUS. 
The Inspector General at the Agriculture Department has criticized broadband programs at the RUS in the past. 
And there are lingering doubts in the minds of some that the Agriculture Department is the right place to locate broadband policy. And I share those doubts.
But it is the job of our new Administrator of the RUS to prove these critics wrong.  I trust he is up to the task.
Third, we have the national broadband plan in development at the FCC.  This is not the subject of our stimulus-focused hearing today, but it is vitally important.  So let me say a few words about it. 
I want to see concrete action on the day the plan is delivered.  Because I believe we need real broadband solutions for real people.  And we need them now. 
A mere menu of options for the FCC and the Congress with far off timeframes is not good enough.
It is the agency’s responsibility to use this plan to address in detail the thorny issues like universal service that the FCC has dodged for too long.
We must give some thought to how this plan can be harmonized with the NTIA and RUS stimulus programs.     
All of the programs we will discuss today share a common goal: to empower our people with the resources and the opportunities they need to succeed in their communities, in our country, and in the world. That is why we’re here.
So let me thank today’s witnesses for their testimony and their service.  And let me remind them that this Committee, the Congress, and the American people are looking to you for results.