WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband, today helped lead a subcommittee hearing on building resilient broadband networks. Denny Law, CEO of Golden West Telecommunications, testified at the hearing and discussed the challenges of deploying strong and resilient broadband in rural areas.
In his opening statement, Thune highlighted multiple bills he has introduced, including the Rural Connectivity Advancement Program Act, Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act, and STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act, to help improve internet connectivity in communities across South Dakota by strengthening broadband and investing in 5G deployment. Reliable, fast internet is an essential element of our nation’s infrastructure. Like roads and bridges, strong internet networks keep our economy going.
Thune’s opening remarks below:
“Thank you, Chairman Lujan.
“Expanding reliable and resilient broadband access in rural areas has long been a priority of mine here in the Senate so I appreciate you holding this important hearing.
“Reliable and resilient networks across all parts of the United States have never been more critical.
“The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we live, work, and in some places educate our kids, which led to the most significant real-world test to date of the resiliency of our broadband networks.
“Overnight, our networks faced new demands as consumer and business usage of fixed and mobile broadband networks soared.
“As the nation locked down, demand for reliable Internet connectivity shot up.
“Some reports have found that fixed broadband usage went up by 40 percent.
“Mobile data traffic shot up by over 20 percent.
“Voice traffic on wireless networks increased in some cases by nearly 40 percent.
“While networks in Europe and elsewhere reduced streaming quality in order to minimize the stress on their networks, U.S. broadband networks were able to accommodate this increased traffic and exceed expectations.
“This is largely because of the United States’ light-tough regulatory approach to broadband policy, which has led to sustained investment by telecommunications companies who have made network reliability and resiliency a priority.
“Even though our networks performed very well during the pandemic, I think we can all agree there is still more work to be done.
“Far too many times, however, Congress has attempted to spur broadband deployment by providing large sums of funding with little to show.
“The 2009 stimulus packaged provided more than $7 billion to support broadband.
“Due to lack of coordination, bad mapping, and a host of other factors, multiple agencies squandered away the funding resulting in just a fraction of the access to connectivity that was promised.
“Today, as Congress considers a larger infrastructure package, this Committee has an opportunity before it to support the deployment of reliable and resilient networks, and it is imperative we get it right.
“Which is why I believe we should make smart investments while maintaining a regulatory regime that allows companies to make the kind of choices and investments that have resulted in strong and resilient U.S. networks.
“We must remove the regulatory and permitting hurdles that delay the buildout of networks, particularly to more rural areas.
“I will continue to advocate for updated regulatory measures like the STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act, which would update current law to better reflect emerging technology and speed up permitting, while respecting the role of state and local governments in making deployment decisions.
“Additional funding should also be targeted to unserved areas and not used to overbuild existing networks.
“In the last year alone, Congress, acting in a bipartisan manner, provided a significant amount of funding for broadband services through the CARES Act and the year-end coronavirus relief package.
“USDA’s Reconnect program received $735 million, and NTIA was provided $1 billion to buildout networks in tribal areas and another $300 million to support broadband infrastructure in more rural areas.
“At the same time Congress was appropriating additional broadband funding, the FCC, under the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, has committed over $9 billion to support broadband services over the next ten years and another $11.2 billion through that program’s second phase
“Additionally, the FCC is expected to distribute up to $9 billion over the next 10 years to bring voice and mobile broadband services under the 5G Fund for Rural America.
“The bipartisan Broadband DATA Act signed into law last March also requires the FCC to produce new maps.
“Having new, accurate maps is critically important to ensure that this funding—most of which is largely unspent—goes to truly unserved areas.
“At the same time, I believe it is equally important that this Committee conduct oversight of the FCC’s development of the new maps and I hope the Committee will hold an FCC oversight hearing so members can discuss this important issue.
“Recognizing the significant amount of funding already made available, finding commonsense ways to efficiently deliver reliable broadband services in a technology-neutral manner like the framework under the bipartisan Rural Connectivity Advancement Program Act, should be part of any infrastructure conversation.
“We also need to be mindful that the deployment of reliable and resilient networks does not happen overnight.
“It takes time and requires providers to have sustainable and predictable funding.
“States like my home state of South Dakota have short build seasons which leads me to my last point.
“Having a sufficient workforce and resilient supply chain in place will be critical to keep networks up and running in times of emergencies, support the buildout broadband networks, meet the demands of 5G deployment, and perform maintenance and upgrades on the networks in the future.
“Which is why I hope the full Senate will soon pass the Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act, legislation that would increase the number of workers enrolled in telecommunications training programs.
“Before I close, I’d like to reiterate a point I made earlier.
“This Committee, which has jurisdiction over telecommunications policy, has a real opportunity to support efforts to close the digital divide and if we work together in a bipartisan manner, we can ensure Americans have access to these important services.
“I appreciate all of the witnesses for being here today, and I look forward to hearing from them about how we can support resilient networks and ensure any additional efforts focus on the areas that need it most.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”