Click here to watch the video.
U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband, today spoke on the Senate floor about his efforts to ensure rural communities in South Dakota have access to broadband services. Thune discussed his Reforming Broadband Connectivity Act, legislation that would help guarantee a stable funding stream for the Federal Communications Commission’s Universal Service Fund, which promotes universal access to broadband and other telecommunications services. Thune also noted that his STREAMLINE Act would make it more affordable to bring 5G to rural areas by addressing the costs of small cell deployment.
Last week, the communications subcommittee held an oversight hearing on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), one of the leading agencies charged with expanding rural broadband access and promoting wireless access. During that hearing, Thune pressed NTIA Assistant Secretary Alan Davidson on removing unnecessary burdensome requirements when distributing broadband funding.
Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, before I begin, I’d like to take a brief moment to wish the United States Army a happy 247th birthday.
“I had the special honor this morning to “fall in” with Secretary of the Army Wormuth, Army Chief of Staff McConville, Sergeant Major of the Army Grinston, many other Army leaders, and hundreds of soldiers for some morning PT.
“I appreciated the opportunity to join in the Army tradition of a birthday formation run, and it was especially humbling to run through the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery.
“Any time you are in Arlington – or any national cemetery in the states, like Black Hills National Cemetery, or overseas, like the Normandy American Cemetery – you are reminded of the sacrifice and legacy of our nation’s warfighters.
“Every name and pair of dates on a headstone tells a unique story of selfless service to our nation.
“And in running over the hills and around the turns this morning, you get a better sense of the magnitude of the more than 400,000 Americans honored at Arlington and the collective sacrifice of all of America’s heroes.
“Today, the U.S. Army proudly carries on the heritage and legacy established on June 14, 1775.
“Our soldiers – and all our men and women in uniform – stand guard around the world to protect our freedoms.
“And they make any adversary think twice about threatening them, as the U.S. Army has done for 247 years.
“Thank you all for your service to our country, your professionalism and determination, and for including me today.
“Mr. President, as a longtime member – and former chairman – of the Senate Commerce Committee and as a resident of a rural state, I have long been focused on expanding rural broadband access and ensuring that the benefits of the next wave of mobile broadband, 5G, are fully realized in rural communities.
“Expanding rural broadband access has been embraced by members on both sides of the aisle, and Congress has appropriated billions of dollars in recent years to ensure that rural communities are able to access fixed broadband.
“And it is encouraging to see members on both sides of the aisle supporting this goal.
“But there are problems.
“While, as I said, Congress has appropriated billions of dollars toward this goal, the federal government lacks an overarching broadband strategy.
“As a recent Government Accountability Office report highlighted, rural broadband funding is spread out over 15 separate agencies and more than 130 separate programs.
“That does not exactly make for outstanding efficiency or coordination.
“What it does make for is wasted taxpayer dollars – and slower progress in ensuring that all our rural communities have access to broadband.
“Last week, the Senate Commerce Committee’s communications subcommittee, of which I serve as ranking member, held an oversight hearing on one of the leading agencies charged with expanding rural broadband access and promoting wireless access – the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, or NTIA.
“I appreciated Assistant Secretary Davidson coming to testify before the committee.
“Last year, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which provided billions of dollars to NTIA to deploy broadband services to unserved areas throughout the United States.
“At the time the bill was debated, I raised a number of concerns about NTIA’s ability to effectively and efficiently manage such substantial funding given NTIA’s past history on expanding rural broadband services.
“The last time Congress provided NTIA with broadband funding – a fraction of the funding it is now responsible for – the agency struggled with implementation and ended up overbuilding existing broadband networks, resulting in billions of taxpayer dollars being spent with little to show.
“And I have not seen a lot to convince me that NTIA will do a better job this time around.
“Last month, NTIA released its Notice of Funding Opportunity for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment, or BEAD, Program.
“The notice contains a number of troubling components.
“To begin with, I am concerned that NTIA is planning to base its funding allocations on maps that don’t accurately reflect which areas of the country are unserved.
“This creates a substantial risk of misallocating the funding Congress appropriated and once again overbuilding existing networks at the taxpayer’s expense.
“NTIA’s notice also makes clear that when it comes to expanding networks, NTIA is planning to favor certain applicants – specifically, government-run networks and non-traditional broadband providers – entities with no proven track record in deploying broadband networks.
“What NTIA should be doing is taking a neutral approach that allows equal participation from all types of broadband providers, as long as they meet the technical, financial, and operational standards to deploy networks.
“Finally, especially at a time of record-high inflation, the last thing any agency should be doing is pursuing extraneous political goals that will ultimately increase the costs for providers who are deploying networks.
“I am disappointed that NTIA, like other federal agencies under this administration, is seeking to score political points with certain constituencies – in this case by leaning into net neutrality requirements, promoting burdensome labor standards, and focusing on climate-change initiatives.
“NTIA’s focus on requiring broadband providers to use a unionized workforce or project labor agreement not only puts providers who do not use union workforces at a disadvantage, but it is unworkable for providers in rural communities like those in South Dakota who simply don’t have access to a unionized workforce.
“Earlier this month, I heard firsthand from the folks who are building out networks in my home state of South Dakota about the challenges they face with respect to supply chain shortages and increased construction costs.
“And including unnecessary requirements in broadband contracts will only exacerbate the problem.
“I will continue to urge NTIA to work with states to reduce rather than increase regulatory burdens so that the funding Congress provided can be used to provide broadband access to as many Americans as possible.
“I also continue to work on other measures to expand broadband access in rural communities, including the Reforming Broadband Connectivity Act, which I joined colleagues from both parties to introduce last year.
“This legislation would help guarantee a stable funding stream for the Federal Communications Commission’s Universal Service Fund, which promotes universal access to broadband and other telecommunications services.
“And I am hoping that we can get this legislation enacted into law this year.
“Mr. President, having reliable rural fixed broadband services is also key in ensuring that rural communities are able to access the next wave of mobile broadband internet, 5G.
“And I am committed to smoothing the path for 5G services.
“5G offers tremendous potential for rural communities, whether it’s better access to telehealth or the opportunity to implement precision agriculture.
“And we need to ensure that we build out 5G networks not just in cities and suburbs but in rural communities across the United States.
“I’ve introduced a number of bills to help keep the United States at the forefront of the 5G revolution and ensure that 5G technology makes its way to rural communities.
“My STREAMLINE Act, for example, would expedite the deployment of the small cells needed for 5G installation while respecting the role of state and local governments in making deployment decisions.
“And, importantly, it would make it more affordable to bring 5G to rural areas by addressing the costs of small cell deployment.
“On the spectrum side of the equation, this year I introduced the Spectrum Innovation Act, along with communications subcommittee chairman Senator Lujan, to free up additional mid-band spectrum for 5G deployment, an action that will simultaneously improve 5G coverage and bring in revenue for deficit reduction.
“And since freeing up additional spectrum requires proper coordination between NTIA, the FCC, and other federal agencies, I joined Senators Wicker, Blackburn, and Lujan to introduce the Improving Spectrum Coordination Act to ensure that our federal partners are effectively managing our nation’s airwaves.
“On the workforce side of things, my Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act, which was enacted into law last year, is designed to help increase the number of workers enrolled in 5G training programs and identify ways to grow the telecommunications workforce to meet the demands of 5G.
“I will continue to work to support every part of the 5G equation – from physical technology to spectrum to a 5G workforce – so that the United States can stay at the forefront of this internet revolution.
“I will also continue to make fixed broadband and 5G access in rural communities a priority.
“Too often, rural areas like those in my home state of South Dakota have lagged behind when it comes to getting the most modern internet technology.
“And I am committed to ensuring that the full benefits of next-generation technologies make their way to rural communities.
“Mr. President, I yield the floor.”