Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), Chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and Internet, released the following statement on today's hearing on the National Broadband Plan featuring Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski.
Earlier today, Senator Kerry posted on Daily Kos to lay out what's at stake in the battle to ensure consumers are protected, users and content are not discriminated against, and broadband service is universally affordable and available.
The full text of Senator Kerry's opening statement as prepared is below:
Chairman Genachowski, I support the National Broadband Plan and consider it a national priority to get robust, open, and affordable broadband to every home. That infrastructure could serve as a platform for innovation, jobs, growth, and a more participatory democracy. But it will not reach its potential if we continue to follow the previous Administration's philosophy that because broadband service is carried over the wires owned by telephone and cable we should do nothing. Under that philosophy, we fell behind the rest of the world in broadband. And our falling behind was not due to a lack of consensus on the goal that we should have the strongest broadband platform in the world. It was due to a failure of policy.
In 2004, both President Bush and I called for affordable universal broadband service by 2006, and I said it needed to be 100 times as fast as it was then. The reasons we have not reached those goals are outlined in the National Broadband Plan: broadband service is highly concentrated in the hands of one or two providers in most markets, wireless broadband is not robust enough to competitively drive improvements in wired broadband service, consumers lack the information they need to make well informed decisions, and we have not yet modernized our universal service fund to ensure rural America is broadband connected.
To our industry friends who are rightly proud of the growth in broadband to date, I say that yes, it is true that we have seen an Internet fueled revolution in communications over the last twenty years. But that does not mean we cannot nor should not being doing better. I find it unacceptable that Americans in big cities like Boston don't enjoy the prices or level of service common in cities in South Korea or Japan. It is wrong that seven million Americans in small towns like Monroe and in sections of the western part of my State enjoy no broadband service at all. And the fact that well over half of our public school kids in Boston do not have Internet service at home is hurting their ability to learn and compete.
Mr. Chairman, I believe that there is a clear role for your agency and Congress to play to change these circumstances. But as you know, your authority to do so has come into question because a federal appeals court ruled last week that the agency is highly limited in what it can do under the current regulatory classification of broadband services. I have not advocated that the FCC reclassify broadband services as a result of this decision because I trust your judgment and want you to explore all options. But I absolutely believe that the agency has that legal authority to reclassify the service in order to protect consumers and provide for universal access to affordable broadband.
According to the FCC General Counsel, the court decision places a number of Americans and American communities at risk of being left behind. He wrote recently that the "decision may affect a significant number of important Plan recommendations. Among them are recommendations aimed at accelerating broadband access and adoption in rural America; connecting low-income Americans, Native American communities, and Americans with disabilities; supporting robust use of broadband by small businesses to drive productivity, growth and ongoing innovation; lowering barriers that hinder broadband deployment; strengthening public safety communications; cybersecurity; consumer protection, including transparency and disclosure; and consumer privacy."
On the other side, telephone and cable companies are arguing that they should be unregulated and free to deliver broadband service as they wish until a new law is written. And I am not opposed to considering a new legal regime of governance designed specifically for broadband service. But I do not believe broadband either should or needs to go without FCC oversight until then. If the Commission can come up with an alternative to reclassification of broadband service for the purpose of fulfilling your mission, then I am open to hearing it. My bottom line, though, is that we must ensure that the values that produced ubiquitous telephone service in the 20th century combined with the market incentives for competition in the 1996 Telecommunications Act are part of the 21st century's platform for communication. The FCC has it within its authority to do that by revisiting the last Administration's regulatory decisions, and if necessary we can supplement those efforts legislatively.
The Broadband Plan calls for the United States to develop the most robust, widely accessible broadband infrastructure in the world by 2020. It states that we can achieve that by releasing more spectrum to encourage wireless broadband competition, better informing consumers, and protecting the open Internet. You have also suggested modernizing the universal service fund and investing in a wireless network police and firefighters can access and rely on to safeguard their vital communications during emergency situations. Those efforts would respectively result in investments in rural broadband and would ensure that the radio collapses that occurred in the wakes of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina never happen again. I support each of these initiatives.
I have a number of questions for you today that I hope will help give Americans the clearest picture possible of how your recommendations will produce results and what we in Congress need to do to help you. And as you pursue those results, you can be confident that you have an ally in this Senator.