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Markey Addresses Consumer Federation of America on Broadband and Internet Policy

Location: Washington, DC


Today, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, will deliver the keynote address at Consumer Federation of America's Consumer Assembly in Washington, D.C.

Markey's speech as prepared for deliver:

Thank you Steve Brobeck. Steve is a one-man, multinational, force of nature and consumer champion.

I want to thank the Consumer Federation of America for the honor to speak with you today and I want to particularly thank the staff of the Consumer Federation - Mark Cooper, Travis Plunkett and the rest of CFA's consumer advocates for their commitment to the public interest and consumer welfare.

I am pleased also that the voters saw fit last November to allow me to address you today in my capacity as Chairman, once again, of the House Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee.

The Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee plans a very active agenda where we will explore competitive and progressive policies for broadband service, wireless services, media ownership, universal service, video competition, and Internet freedom or network neutrality.

Yet, the overarching goal of the Subcommittee's agenda is to fashion together a policy blueprint to make broadband service ubiquitous and affordable broadband for every American. Our end goal will be consumer choice, affordability, high bandwidth speeds, full build-out, high quality of service, and an open architecture that supports Internet freedom - in short, an infrastructure for the 21st Century.

This infrastructure is increasingly vital for health care delivery, for education and job training, for civic participation, entrepreneurial activity, innovation, and economic prosperity.

Unfortunately, depending upon which rankings are cited, we are either 16th in the world, or 21st, or 29th in broadband subscribership. Now, admittedly, some of the countries ahead of us in these rankings are not apt comparisons. In Iceland, for instance, half the country's citizens live in one city, Reykjavik, and even there the phone book allegedly lists people by their first names. In South Korea, approximately half the population reportedly lives in apartment buildings and other multiple dwelling units.

However, even discounting for some of the differences in nations ahead of us, one thing is clear - we are not number 1. And in a number of benchmarks we are behind the U.K., Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Australia, Canada, and Japan. And we lag behind not only in subscribership and affordability, but also in broadband speed itself. Our cable modem and DSL speeds wouldn't even qualify as broadband in many countries abroad unless they arrived to the home with a good gust of wind behind them. While here in the U.S. the FCC counts as broadband any speed over 200 kilobits per second, or one-fifth of one megabit per second, the Japanese can subscribe to fiber-to-the home speeds of up to 100 megabits per second. In fact, according to a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) from last year, Japan has more fiber-to-the home subscribers than 22 of the 30 OECD countries combined.

Overseas, not only are the speeds higher, but the prices are lower. In the US, a subscriber might get 1 to 4 megabits-per-second service from their phone or cable operator, and it may cost 30 or 40 dollars. In France, the equivalent money will buy a 15 megabits per second service and in Japan they get more bandwidth for a lower price with a 26 megabits-per-second service costing roughly 22 dollars.

These facts highlight quite simply that America needs a better plan. Unfortunately, we are still at the stage that having any broadband plan at all would represent an improvement.

For the United States any successful plan that will move us up in these rankings will inevitably involve a mix of policy solutions including competitive policies, universal service, targeted grants, wireless policy, network neutrality provisions, municipal offering of broadband service - and maybe other tools as well. It is clear, however, that relying solely upon market forces isn't delivering what consumers need.

Let me give you one brief example of how we can make progress. When I was Chairman of the Subcommittee in 1993, I had lunch one day with producer George Lucas of Star Wars fame. At lunch we discussed how telecommunications technology could assist education and how kids in a 21st Century America would need a high tech classroom experience that animated the course curricula in a way. We talked in particular about getting the cable and phone companies to do this for free as a demonstration of their commitment to the future of the communities they served.

After that meeting, I then wrote the top 20 cable and phone companies and asked if they would provide high speed links to classrooms and whether they would do that for free. In January 1994, I released the results of this survey. Only 3 of the top 20 were willing to do it. Obviously, if we were ever going to ensure that all classrooms were connected by learning links to the Internet, a plan was needed and so I introduced legislation to achieve this goal. By March of 1994 I had added my provision ensuring a discounted "education rate" for schools and libraries to the bill that Representative Jack Fields (R-TX) and I were working on to revamp our telecomm laws.

I called the education rate program the "E-rate." And today that program provides $2.25 Billion worth of telecommunications services and Internet access to K-12 schools and libraries across the country annually.

In June of 1994 that bill passed the House by a vote of 423-4. While the telecomm bill that year died in the Senate and Democrats then lost control of the Congress, fortunately in the next Congress the E-rate was successfully added to the Senate version of the Telecomm Act by Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Democratic Senators Rockefeller, Dorgan, Exon, and Bob Kerrey.

In this Congress, the business of the Subcommittee will be the unfinished business of building upon this plan. We will look at strengthening and improving the E-rate, but we will also look at policies that will ensure that all Americans have access to ubiquitous, affordable broadband for every American. Not just in the affluent suburbs or in our schools, but

in residential markets in the inner city

in immigrant neighborhoods,

for low income families,

for public housing and community centers,

and for those who live in distant, high cost rural areas.

In addition to universal service and broadband access, the Subcommittee will also focus upon Internet freedom and so-called "network neutrality." Just as ensuring that America is #1 in broadband service is something that will unite Democrats and Republicans on the attractiveness of the goal, the coalition that helped support my key Network Neutrality amendment last year included Free Press,, and the ACLU - but also the Christian Coalition, Gun Owners of America, and the National Religious Broadcasters.

Let me just briefly address Internet freedom.

The truth is that the open architecture of the Internet is baked into its "technological DNA" - it is what has ensured the Internet's place as the greatest "level playing field" ever created. The Internet has been an engine for economic growth, innovation, and job creation precisely because rules were in place to ensure that telephone companies could not warp the world wide web to their own designs.....

The Internet freedom debate is about innovation and voices. For innovation, the Internet has no peer in its ability to foster innovation and provide low barriers to entry for new ideas and businesses. As for voices, the Internet today is a wonderfully chaotic medium where voices powerful and less powerful can be heard throughout the media mix. Individual citizens, civic groups, religious organizations, sporting clubs, trade associations, all have a stake in ensuring that the large telephone and cable companies keep their hands off the Internet and not degrade their ability to reach other citizens without discrimination.

There are some out there who will inevitably ask the question, 'But why shouldn't the Googles of the world pay?' Google certainly has a very large market cap and, with its stock at $500 a share, presumably could afford to pay.

But that is precisely the wrong question to ask. The question to ask is whether Larry Page and Sergey Brin could have afforded to pay back in 1998, whether Chief Yahoo Jerry Yang could have afforded to make such payments to a broadband behemoth back in 1995 when he was a student, whether another student, Marc Andreessen, the founder of Netscape, could have afforded to pay anyone, anything, starting out in 1994.

Or whether the countless new blogs and the new participatory media that have grown tremendously on the web over the past few years would have flourished as they have had they been forced to pay Internet gatekeepers to get their message out.

For the entrepreneurs in the proverbial garages around the country today, whose ideas are new, whose products are still in 'beta,' whose "whiz-bang" idea is still in its infancy, their dreams are just as real and valid as Larry's, Sergey's, Jerry's, and Marc's were an Internet-generation ago. And we should be doing everything we can in public policy to ensure that the wildly successful open Internet model continues to drive innovation, economic growth, job creation, and the propagation and discussion of ideas.

On the other side of the debate we must remember that the phone companies are not known for their innovation...

AT&T actually turned down the contract to build it. So....

What did AT&T have to do with inventing the Internet? - NOTHING.

What did any phone company have to do with the invention of the web browser? - NOTHING.

What did Verizon have to do with the invention of the World Wide Web? - NOTHING.

These companies literally had nothing to do with creating what makes the Internet so special.....

Yet, now they are showing up as if they should own it all.

We simply must not let that happen and I pledge to fight it and will be counting on your help and support to battle for the future of the Internet, the future of innovation.

This morning I attended a funeral mass for Father Robert Drinan, S.J., a Jesuit priest who was my dean at Boston College Law School and then my colleague in Congress. Father Drinan, S.J. was one of those special human beings who pressed continually for justice and spoke truth to power in a way that was candid and carried moral force.

The Jesuits instill the notion in their teaching that we should all be women and men for others, that we should use the talents and gifts that God has given us to better the lives of others living in our community. Father Drinan certainly did this.

Another Jesuit at Boston College when I was there was the late Father Bob McEwen, S.J. Many of you in this room today knew Father McEwen because in many respects he was the "father" - no pun intended - of the consumer movement in Massachusetts. He lobbied the Massachusetts state legislature, for instance, to create a "Consumer Council" in 1963 and served as its founding chair.

Father McEwen was also the Chairman of the Boston College Economics Department from 1957 to 1970. Father McEwen's economics was the economics of social justice and he pressed for consumer information, education, and against corporate collusion. He would question what the "just price" was of a commodity in the market and ask whether it was morally correct to charge interest to someone when the giver had abundance and the recipient had little. While not against the charging of interest in every case, he felt in such circumstances that such economic activity might undermine the building of community. You don't often hear such talk from the chairmen of university economics departments these days....

The Biblical injunction that "to whom much is given, much is expected" is something that we should all reflect upon. In this room, we have many gifts and many talents. We are as a society, the most educated and most wealthy and most gifted the world has ever seen. We possess more than one-half of one-half of one-half of one percent of all the people who have ever lived.

Let's put these gifts to good use. And let's build a telecommunications policy model that the world will envy and our citizens will benefit from. And then let's do the same for health care, the environment, energy policy, and the fight against the spread of nuclear weapons.

Again, I want to thank the Consumer Federation for inviting me here today and my door is always open to you.

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