Rockefeller Remarks on Oversight of the FCC

May 16, 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C.—It is a pleasure to welcome our witnesses today – all FIVE members of the Federal Communications Commission.  I want to say a special word of welcome to the two newest members of the FCC – Commissioners Rosenworcel and Pai. You are both excellent additions to the Commission, and I know your colleagues share my enthusiasm for having you on board. Today’s hearing gives Committee members an opportunity to convey our priorities and to hear from you about your efforts to protect consumers and carry out the public interest. 

This hearing follows on the heels of a hearing we had a few weeks ago that explored the future of video and how it is migrating from one platform to another. Such migration is not limited to video; however, it is occurring across the communications landscape. And we all need to be giving serious thought to how our communications laws are protecting consumers’ basic interests in light of these changes.  

But I would be remiss if I did not start today by acknowledging that you have accomplished something that previous Commissions have not – comprehensive reform of the High-Cost Universal Service Fund. As you know, this Committee held a hearing last year on the need for reform. I know that it was not easy.  You had to make hard choices and you still face difficult implementation issues. As expected, your reform efforts have not pleased everyone. But it was imperative that the fund start targeting universal service support to areas of the country without service that truly need it.

The FCC also has the responsibility of carrying out implementation of spectrum auction and public safety provisions of that Congress passed earlier this year. I plan to be aggressive in monitoring implementation of that law for first responders. Specifically, the law gives the agency a simple and streamlined task – to adopt minimum, baseline technical requirements for the new FirstNet authority. The FCC should not complicate or encumber FirstNet’s mission for public safety. We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to get this network right for our Nation’s first responders. I will make sure that this law is carried out consistent with its intent.

Similarly, another program that I care deeply about is E-Rate. Senator Snowe and I were responsible for establishing the E-Rate program, which has done a fantastic job of providing schools and libraries with affordable access to telecommunications and the Internet.  No other program has been as singularly effective at closing our educational digital divide. As you know, annual demand for E-Rate funds from schools and libraries exceeds supply by a ratio of two to one. That is why I am troubled by proposals that indicate you will consider using E-Rate funds or authority to support digital literacy initiatives. 

Let me be clear – I support broadband adoption and digital literacy efforts.  It is vital that we make sure that broadband is both widely deployed and adopted in rural and urban communities nationwide. But let me be unequivocally clear – I believe any digital literacy initiatives should not compromise the E-Rate program. 

Finally, in this hearing, we may hear calls for the agency’s statutory authority to be updated. As I have indicated before, as Chairman of this Committee, I am willing to lead that effort. But I am not interested in a reform exercise that puts the thumb on the scale to benefit one industry player, at the expense of another. Any effort to revise or update the law must keep consumers front and center. And regardless of any such effort, it is imperative the FCC continues to use all its existing authority to robustly protect consumers and the public interest. To our witnesses, I look forward to your testimony and your responses to our questions.