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Hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee - Oversight of the Broadband Stimulus Programs in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act


Location: Washington, DC

Kerry Touts Broadband Access as Key to Economic Recovery

Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), a senior member of the Commerce Committee, delivered the following statement today at an oversight hearing on the national expansion of Internet access as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

"Today, broadband means educational tools, job opportunities, government services and telemedicine," said Sen. Kerry. "Those without access are now in the minority and they are at risk of becoming second class citizens. Today's hearing offers essential oversight needed to ensure that broadband stimulus programs are a vital part of our successful economic recovery."

Kerry is the Chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet and author of the Wireless Innovation Act of 2007, which aims to deliver broadband access to underserved communities.

Below are Sen. Kerry's remarks as prepared:

I want to thank you, Mr. Chairman for holding this important oversight hearing on broadband funding included in the economic stimulus legislation passed earlier this year. I want to thank you as well for your tireless efforts to bring broadband to rural America, to schools, and to anchor institutions through programs like e-rate. You had the foresight to encourage broadband access and deployment long ago, before it became such a core ingredient to our daily lives. We would not be in this position were it not for your efforts.

People often talk of the transformative power of broadband - the access to information, shopping, and social networks that broadband provides to consumers.

This is all true. However, as the Internet is maturing, what was once a novelty is now becoming a necessity.

Today, broadband means educational tools, job opportunities, government services and telemedicine. Those without access are now in the minority and they are at risk of becoming second class citizens.

Studies indicate that 78 percent of students regularly use the Internet for classroom work, and 77 percent of Fortune 500 companies accept job applications only online. More and more government services are being offered online.

That means that children of families without broadband are at a disadvantage in school. Qualified workers are losing access to jobs. And laborers are forced to take time off from work to wait in government offices for services that are available online.

And who are those without broadband? Not surprisingly, many are low income households, the elderly, and those living in rural communities.

According to an FCC presentation last month, only 35 percent of households with incomes of less than $20,000 use a broadband service compared to the nation-wide average of 63 percent.

In Boston, Massachusetts, Mayor Tom Menino has developed an ambitious and greatly needed digital inclusion initiative to help increase access to broadband for the City's lowest income neighborhoods. The OpenCape Corporation from Cape Cod has also put together a proposal to bring the next generation of broadband infrastructure to Southeastern Massachusetts. These projects are great examples of how the BTOP program can help expand opportunity, improve public safety, and create jobs.

In the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Congress recognized the need to promote equal access and opportunity for all Americans, no matter where they live. In particular, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) prioritized two categories of recipients, public computing centers and sustainable broadband adoption projects, as key to ensuring that no one is left behind.

Public computing centers such as libraries and schools provide broadband access to a wide range of community members, many of whom would otherwise lack service. Moreover, such centers act as anchor tenants by bringing basic infrastructure to underserved areas. Once that infrastructure exists, the cost of extending broadband service to the surrounding community is minimal.

But infrastructure alone is not enough. Adoption programs are critical to preventing the creation of a digital underclass. No child's education should suffer because their parents cannot afford broadband. And no worker should lose access to a job because they don't know how to apply online.

In implementing BTOP, I am concerned that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) did not adequately prioritize grants to public computing centers and adoption projects. I hope that in the next round of applications, the NTIA will also dedicate greater resources to adoption programs as well as recognize community anchor institutions as priority recipients consistent with the Recovery Act.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the FCC's national broadband plan initiative. While $7.2 billion is a large sum, it is insufficient to bring broadband to every unserved community and empower every low income household to access the Internet. But these are things we must do. And do now. I am hopeful that the FCC plan will include self-executing steps to expeditiously deliver on the promise of broadband to consumers across the country.

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