2020.05.13 The State of Broadband Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic @SenateCommerce
4:38PM May 13, 2020
Sen. Roger Wicker
Sen. Maria Cantwell
(start missing) shows that average broadband usage is up by 47% since the pandemic began. The good news is that there has been some progress in connecting all Americans. The FCC has recently released broadband deployment report tells us that the number of households without access to broadband service continues to decline. Yet despite these advances, there is still significant work that needs to be done to get every American connected. The current public health crisis has made these efforts all the more urgent. I appreciate the initiatives led by the FCC to sustain and accelerate the availability of broadband connections. This includes the keep Americans connected pledge where providers have committed not determinate broadband services to any residential or small business customers because of an inability to pay their bills among other commitments, along with temporary modifications to existing universal fund USF programs to support the surging demand for an internet service. These commitments have been done with, with some inconvenience and cost to those making the pledge, and I appreciate that. The bipartisan CARES Act also provided provided federal resources to broadband related programs. In response to COVID-19. For example, the FCC received $200 million for a telehealth program that is designed to provide immediate assistance to eligible healthcare providers to support their broadband needs. The cares act also provided $13 billion to the Department of Education to support distance learning. These resources can be used to ensure students have access to broadband digital devices and other equipment to continue their learning from home. Today's hearing is an opportunity to discuss what more can be done to to address immediate connectivity needs stemming from the COVID-19 crisis.
Critically, efforts to expand broadband access depend on accurately identifying unserved areas and communities. The Broadband Data Act, which was recently signed into law, will help provide the FCC with more precise data about where broadband is available and where it is not, and at what speeds. The FCC will soon begin rolling out new and important USF programs such as the 5G Fund. The FCC is currently seeking comment on whether to implement the Broadband Data Act before moving forward with the 5G Fund. This program will succeed, however, only if the FCC follows the law. I look forward to working with members of this committee and the appropriations committee to ensure that the Commission has the funding it needs to implement the Broadband Data Act. There have also been several legislative proposals in both chambers of Congress to prioritize the delivery of broadband services during this outbreak. I hope witnesses will discuss the merits of these proposals, and how they will provide immediate relief and connectivity to Americans. We also need a regulatory framework that fosters investment and promotes broadband deployment. I look forward to discussing how to ensure all levels of government have the appropriate regulatory processes in place to promote rather than create barriers to broadband buildout. This includes making sure broadband providers have access to permits in a timely manner to maintain and upgrade their networks to support increased demand for Internet services as more Americans rely on their internet connections to maintain contact with colleagues and loved ones.
Enhancing network security and resiliency is also a top priority for this committee. I hope to learn more about how dedicating resources to the FCC newly authorized Rip and Replace program, in addition to other initiatives, will help keep our network secure, enhance our ability to get Americans back to work, and expand broadband access. Finally, I wish to thank our country's broadband network providers and technicians for their tireless effort to make sure Americans stay connected during this pandemic. So thank you to all of those individuals. Unlike in other countries, the surge in online traffic and bandwidth consumption in the United States has not diminished network performance, nor has it required the slowing of online services and applications. Instead, US providers have been able to meet the growing demand, allowing Americans to continue enjoying high quality internet services throughout this pandemic, and that is a fine accomplishment.
So I thank the witnesses again for being here and for participating remotely. And with that, I will turn to my dear friend and ranking member, Senator Cantwell, for her opening remarks. Senator Cantwell.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you for holding this important hearing. And thank you to our witnesses for appearing today both in person and virtually to discuss solutions. The COVID crisis has made it crystal clear, functioning broadband is absolutely necessary for every American home. We spent a lot of time in this committee over the past several years talking about the persistent digital divide, and the harms that come to both the economy and and society. But we have not done enough to close that divide. And now we are in the middle of a crisis where people who are disconnected from school, work, health care, friends and family, need access urgently. Saying connected is as critical as ever and as one of our witnesses will say today, Mr. Kimmelman, broadband is essential. But right now it's without universal access. It's no wonder that according to Pew Research, the majority of Americans now consider broadband connectivity to be essential in their lives. And yet millions of American families still do not have access to this essential service. The FCC reports that at least 18 million Americans lack access to broadband, and suspect the number is significantly higher. Millions of Americans have internet connections that can support essential applications and software for for remote learning. But there are many who cannot, and the glaring disparities between those who cannot now afford to deliver those services into the home because of cost is also something this committee should consider. That is why we must address our short term emergency needs, and also invest in closing the digital divide.
To put it into perspective, the Pew Research nationally showed that 35% household households with school aged children, and annual in comes below 30,000, do not have access to high speed internet at home. 25% of African American homes, and 23% of Hispanic homes, with school aged children do not have access to high speed internet at home. And, in the state of Washington, more than two thirds of our school districts responded to a recent survey showing that some of the families could just simply not afford broadband services. Statewide, 16% of families with children had no access to broadband, and the Spokane school district recently did a survey of 34 different schools and found varying degrees of connetivity, and concerns by teachers about who could fully engage in distance learning. That's why I want to thank Senator Markey for his tireless efforts to close the homework gap. I'm proud to be a co sponsor of legislation that he has for emergency FCC E-Rate funding to address this need, and try to close the gap.
And also COVID has demonstrated the importance of health care during this crisis. COVID-19 has changed the healthcare delivery system, primary care physicians are closing their offices around the country to inpatient care, people are afraid to go to the hospital to seek out necessary care because of the infection. So telehealth has become the best way to protect the public during the COVID crisis, and clinics in my state have transitioned to using telehealth as the first contact with each patient. In fact, some clinics in my state report around 90% of their initial contacts with patients now occur online. That is why it's so important to make sure that people have access to broadband, if our healthcare delivery system in initial contacts are going to move in that direction. The CDC recommends that health clinics throughout the country use remote contact with patients as their first line of defense for COVID-19. But that only works if those clinics and those patients have broadband. A recent Brookings report cited the lack of broadband, or insufficient broadband service to support remote diagnostics, as a key barrier to widespread use of telehealth. So I want to again thank some of our colleagues, Senator Schatz, who has been leading the charge to support a telehealth package as part of the next COVID round of packages, and we need to make sure that these services are widely available, allowing patients to access the care they need. The added benefit for doctors is they can actually care for more patients in a day, take the pressure off of their colleagues, who are dealing with the COVID crisis. So, broadband also can help with the understanding of COVID-19. The FCC has already compared health outcomes like diabetes with broadband availability, and I want to thank Senator Rosen for her work pressing the FCC to study additional issues like maternal health outcomes, and other issues related to broadband availability.
And lastly, Mr. Chairman, I wanted to bring up Indian country. This represents a nearly 27% point gap in non tribal to tribal areas when it comes to broadband access. This gap only widens according to a report by the FCC, that 31% of households on tribal land act lack access to high speed broadband compared to 7% in non tribal areas. So I want to thank my colleagues, Senators Udall and Tester, for their continued work on delivering broadband to Indian country. And it's clear, we have to make sure that new tools are put in place to make up for the shortfalls that we currently see. Broadband activity can be a great equalizer in this country. But if access is not there, the we can see right here and now during the COVID crisis, the challenges to our education system, our healthcare system, and just basic contact with family and loved ones. So, I look forward to hearing from the witnesses today in what we can do to close this gap immediately. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Senator Cantwell. We'll begin our testimony with accepting the full statements from all four of our witnesses. They will be included in their entirety in the record at this point, and we'll ask each witness to summarize his or her testimony In approximately five minutes beginning with Mr. Steven Berry, Mr. Berry you are recognized.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Is this? Can you hear? Is this on?
Okay, Chairman Wicker, Ranking Member Cantwell, and members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to testify about how competitive carriers have gone above and beyond to keep Americans connected during the COVID-19 pandemic. CCA is the nation's leading association for competitive wireless providers. Our members range from small rural carriers serving less than 5000 customers, to regional and nationwide providers serving millions of customer. As our country faces the largest public health crisis of our lifetime. I am proud of how CCA members have worked to maintain connectivity in the face of unprecedented demand for telecommunication services across every aspect of day to day life as economic, educational, health and social connections moves online to stay connected while staying apart. Tethering use is up significantly, and one CCA member reported educational app usage up nearly 150%. Despite the increase in network usage, I can report that competitive carriers have proven to be up to the task, and they have taken extraordinary measures to maintain connectivity. I also applaud the FCC for helping carriers temporarily tap into a pool of unutilized spectrum to meet these demands. I hope this experience will encourage additional innovative uses of spectrum partitioning, and disaggregation, going forward. Of course, networks cannot function without the men and women who work every day to preserve and expand mobile broadband services. It is imperative to keep these professionals safe and healthy to maintain connectivity for all, and they must have reliable access to PPE.
To help their customers many CCA members signed on to the FCC s Keep America Connected pledge to waive late fees and maintain service. Whether signatories to the pledge or not, CCA members of all sizes are helping their communities stay connected by offering billing credits, adding additional data capacity, standing up new sites to provide service for educational use, and even working with local health centers to develop triage applications. After all, CCA members have been a vital part of their communities for years, and that's just what you do for your friends and neighbors. These efforts come at no immediate cost to consumers, but can draw significant resources from the carriers providing these services. To be candid. carriers, especially small carriers, are experiencing many of the same economic challenges as every small business. As the national emergency continues. consumers may accrue significant balances on accounts for communication services. To assist these consumers, CCA supports the Stay Connected Voucher proposal. The Stay Connected Voucher is the missing element to help consumers remain connected without later facing bill shock and undue hardships. It's a technology neutral approach that empowers consumers by giving them the ability to determine which services are most important during these difficult times. And, importantly, it builds on Congress's work in the CARES Act itself, and will not require new eligibility or verification processes.
The pandemic has underscored the significant disconnect experienced between those on the wrong side of the digital divide. To bridge this divide, policymakers must focus on updating our nation's mobile broadband coverage maps. I congratulate Chairman Wicker and this committee for your work to enact the bipartisan Broadband Data Act. The FCC should begin immediately to work to implant the mobile provisions of the law as directed by Congress, and use newly collected data to guide the proposed $9 billion 5G program.
Finally, our networks must be secure. Thank you for your efforts to create the Secure and Tusted Communication Networks Reimbursement program. We joined with Chairman Pai in urging Congress to fully fund this program to provide carriers with the resources necessary to maintain connectivity for the customers while complying with the National Security directives. The lack of funding is huge. It's a huge impediment to achieving this priority. As our nation shifts from relief to recovery all Americans are facing challenging times, but it's very clear connectivity is critical and worth additional investment, especially in rural America. And CCA stands ready to work with you, and thank you for the opportunity to testify and I'll welcome your questions.
Thank you very much,Mr. Berry. Next up, the committee will hear from Miss Shirley Bloomfield, Chief Executive Officer in NTCA - the Rural Broadband Association. And this is a big room and you're clear down at the other end., so if all of us could speak directly into the microphones it would help folks like me.
Excellent. Well, Chairman Wicker, Ranking Member Cantwell, and members of the committee, we are delighted to be able to testify before you here today. I'm Shirley Bloomfield, the CEO of NTCA - the Rural Broadband Association. We represent about 850 community based carriers across the country, who are small broadband providers as well as small businesses in 45 states. The pandemic has highlighted more than ever that robust and reliable broadband is essential for everyday life. And even in this time of crisis, the stories of selflessness and creative acts by NTCA members serve to me as a constant reminder that when the going gets tough, the tough get innovating. So, thanks to their community commitment, and their entrepreneurial spirit, and the support of this committee, as well as agencies like the FCC and RUS, NTCA's community based providers were well prepared to keep Americans connected during the crisis. That's because NTCA members have led the charge in building future proofed broadband networks for years, with over 60% of their rural customers having access to fiber conductivity, and speeds in excess of 100 megabits. As hometown providers, it's not surprising that more than half of the signers at the FCC Chairman's Pledge to Keep Americans Connected are NTCA members. And so many have gone above and beyond that pledge, in terms of keeping their families, their friends, and their neighbors connected. Smart rural community carriers, like Big Bend in Texas who is extending their fiber network to students homes, to Golden Bell Coop in Kansas, working with school administrators to connect over 100 students in three days, and bump up all their consumers to the next tier of service for free, to ATMC in North Carolina who immediately offered broadband at no cost to households with students, including college students who previously had no connectivity. And then there's the hundreds and hundreds of hotspots, the Wi Fi connectivity, that have been rolled out into these communities. And that's just a tiny sampling of what NTCA members are doing to help ensure that the rural communities are able to navigate the many difficulties brought on by this pandemic. And despite the pandemic, members report that they're hoping to hold fast to plans for continuing to deploy new broadband, the infrastructure that they'd already plan to roll out. But challenges certainly persist, and NTCA providers are doing everything they can to keep everybody's internet lights on. But, to do that, they need to keep their own lights on. An increasing number of customers are becoming unable to pay for service. And members are concerned about their ability to repay loans and purchase critical supplies like routers, fiber, or backbone access to the internet. And of course, they have to pay their own employees as well. None of these costs are things that they simply barter away or ignore.
Speaking of employees, sourcing personal protective equipment, as Steve mentioned, continues to be a struggle. It's critical for our members to obtain access to masks, disinfectant wipes, gloves, and hand sanitizers, especially if anybody wants to reopen the economy. Concerns about delays, in the supply chain for equipment, could also hinder deployment plans later this year. We've also encountered frustration when it comes to the Paycheck Protection Program. While this program offers helpful promise, there's still confusion among stakeholders on whether certain kinds of small businesses such as cooperatives actually even qualify. To help with some of these challenges, NTCA recommends that Congress view the challenges ahead as requiring a mix of near term and longer term solutions. In the near term, we need both to make sure that those who are not currently connected get connected, and also to make sure that those who are connected can stay connected. We applaud the FCC for taking quick action to make its USF programs more accessible to those in need, and expanded emergency broadband benefits for consumers in distress will certainly help. But, these steps alone will not keep every American connected. We therefore also encourage Congress to pass the Keeping Critical Connections Act, which was introduced by Senators Klobuchar and Kramer. This bipartisan, bicameral, bill which has 30. Senate co sponsors, including nine members of this committee, would create a temporary emergency fund to keep Americans connected during the pandemic. In the longer term, Congress should adopt a forever connected perspective when it comes to promoting broadband. From the Alaskan Bush to the Mississippi Delta, no American should get second class broadband service, or worse yet, no service at all.
While NTCA appreciates the broadband infrastructures ideas that continue to be put forth, we believe the best approach is to avoid creating new programs, and to instead leverage the existing broadband programs, that have been improved upon, as time has gone on. NTCA recommends five simple principles to guide a Forever Connected approach. First, leverage existing broadband programs to get the most immediate return on investment, while also avoiding confusion and potential interagency comflicts. Second, prevent duplication of scarce federal resources by requiring all agencies to strictly coordinate use of their programs. Three, require all agencies to use updated broadband maps, and meaningful challenge processes to ensure that unserved areas are accurately identified and served. Four, invest in technology that can be easily upgraded to deliver the fastest speeds over the long term life of the asset. We certainly wouldn't use our highway program to create a two lane road, when we know that an eight lane highway is what is going to be needed five to 10 years down the road. We should approach broadband infrastructure the same way. Remember, on number five, that any program must focus not only on building the broadband network itself, but also sustaining that network over time, once it's actually been built. We're all in this together, and the work that Congress is doing will be essential to see us through this crisis, and make a lasting impact for future generations to come. Thank you so much for the opportunity to join you today. And I look forward to your questions.
Thank you Miss Bloomfield. And let me just say, at this point, as one of the ones who met late into the night, developing the CARES Act, I see no reason why a 501(c)12 nonprofit cooperative, who is otherwise qualified, should be prohibited from participating in the Paycheck Protection Program. And I have urged Treasury to make that decision clear, and I hope we get a positive answer very, very soon. I thank the committee for indulging me there. And now. Mr. Kimmelman, senior advisor to Public kKnowledge joins us remotely, and Mr. Kimmelman, we're delighted to have you, and we take this opportunity to thank the technicians who have made this possible.
Thank you. Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman, Senator Cantwell and members of the committee. On behalf of public knowledge. I truly appreciate this invitation to testify this morning. Wow, just think of a gut punch that this virus has delivered to all of us. It's really demonstrated just how dependent we are on a high quality, fast speed, video capable broadband (bleep then silence)
Yeah, we were doing so well.
Our jobs, most of us, need this service. The education of our children is now fully dependent on ISP broadband, getting food and supplies, the delivery of healthcare. As Senator Cantwell mentioned, broadband has just become the true lifeline to our functioning today. So, just imagine, just imagine what it's like to be among the 42 million Americans who don't have access, access to the wired broadband to deliver that kind of connectivity, or the 26% of rural Americans who can't get fast enough broadband, The the more than 50% of people on rural tribal lands, who lack wireline broadband, the 12 million plus students who lack access to internet at home, and the millions of low income households, many of them elderly, almost 40% of Black and LatinX households who just can't afford the high price of broadband. Yes, we're all struggling. But these people are virtually helpless, and they need attention immediately.
Unfortunately, the FCC has abandoned its most effective tools for overseeing broadband, and some of this pain these have nots are experiencing could have been mitigated. Now, of course we appreciate all of the industry's voluntary efforts to provide some assistance to those in need. It's truly helpful. We're extremely appreciative of the Congress for coming together in a bipartisan way to provide some critical resources for individuals, small businesses and those who've lost their job. We hope it's that sentiment, discarding ideological differences to unite for the good of our country that will continue. First we urge you to complete as many resources, and to address all broadband needs during this emergency, given how essential high speed internet is to daily life. From Lifeline. to the E-rate program. to expanding deployment, telehealth all need resourcing. We particularly appreciate FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel's leadership in the charge to take care of kids who can't do their homework due to the lack of broadband. We need to fix that, and all of these other affordability problems.
But most importantly, Mr. Chairman, we need a long term solution to bridge the digital divide. Broadband has become not just essential to individuals and households. It is fundamentally intertwined with many of our most important societal needs. It's critical to any path forward out of this crisis. To jumpstart our economy, we're going to need full access to the internet for as many people as possible, to educate our kids, keep families and relationships going, and healthy and supported., we all need high speed internet. To practice our social distancing, to do our jobs, to avoid unnecessary travel, we all need the internet.
And to support our democracy we need a local journalism that can clean up the disinformation, the falsehoods that are flowing on the internet, in order to make sure we can tell fact from fiction. Let's extend the bipartisan spirit, that you've shown in the most recent legislation, to a commitment to reliable, affordable, universally high quality broadband for all Americans, to help speed up this recovery, and move us to a path back to normalcy. Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you very, very much, Mr. Kimmelman. And we now turn to Mr. Jonathan Spalter, President and CEO of US Telecom, the Broadband Association. Sir, you are recognized for five minutes.
Well, thank you very much Chairman Wicker, Ranking Member Cantwell, members of the committee. I am Jonathan Salter, and I don't believe I've ever been more proud to serve as President and CEO of US Telecom, and supporting our members, their frontline essential workforce, and their customers, through this national emergency. You've asked us here today to share the extraordinary steps our members are taking, and also what's required during these uncertain times to keep our citizens connected, and I'm really grateful to have this opportunity. And I got to tell you, we don't have to go very far to tell this story. In fact, if we were to walk out of this building on Constitution Avenue you go a mile and a half up Massachusetts staffing you would get to the Washington Convention Center. And there you would find not out of town. Visitors but you would find the Army Corps of Engineer medstar the DC government and us telecom member Smart City, working side by side in 12 hour shifts in harm's way to convert that convention center into a world class emergency field hospital. You know, smart city teams are doing this exact same work in 17 different convention centers across the country. With another dozen or so teams on standby just in case their communities need to ramp up at the last moment emergent
To see services quickly. And here's the bottom line. These active teams are operating at an 85% loss, and the standby teams are at a total loss with no guarantee of cost recovery. I asked Smart City board member Marty Rubin who was also on our board of directors. Why do you do it? And his answer was, there was never any question. These are our communities. You know, this is the story of all our member companies at us Telecom, whether it's at and T's just one instance $10 million distant learning and family connections fund, or Big Ben telephone led by us telecom chair rusty more in Alpine Texas, reallocating unused broadband resources that are fallow right now and his local schools and redirecting them to and into the homes of students and families in need to ensure that they can Continue to learn at home in West Texas. Turn horizons $55 million so far contribution to push back against the global COVID-19 crisis CenturyLink donating its time and equipment to connect and wire, the US Navy's hospital ship mercy in a mere 48 hours in its new home port of the Port of Los Angeles. You know, our companies have always gone above and beyond to serve our community pleasure, no pledge, and never do we stand taller than in a time of crisis. And the same can be said, of our networks, you know, among the 10 largest countries in the world. The US is the only nation that recorded no substantial degradation in terms of speed, last month in April, unlike countries that took a more heavily regulated path to broadband infrastructure, which has led to significant underinvestment in their networks capacity and performance as the world shuts down. The US internet remains open. we've demonstrated that Americans can count on their network if they are connected to it.
So where do we go from here to close the digital divide?
we must pursue with tremendous urgency, Mr. Chairman, a permanent fix to Universal Service, one that puts the digital divide in the rear view of our nation once and for all. We need to evaluate carefully what the cost would be the speeds, the capacity and the timelines. We also need to be crystal clear about the underlying principles that will steer our public private partnership forward to get the job done. And I'm committing today that we will work with you to do this. And we're ready to start now. Us telecom delivered to the FCC last year a blueprint for broadband maps that can identify with pinpoint accuracy every home and business that remains unserved in our nation, Congress green lighted disruption And thank you for that. Now we need it funded. From there we get to work, we should rely on programs we know have been stress tested, and not waste money or time on unproven experiments, we should commit the resources required both private and public and move forward with determination. I'll conclude with the words of my board member Marty Rubin the beginning. There is no question, what is the right thing to do? The history look back on our service, yours is lawmakers and ours on the frontline of an essential industry and say there was never any question that every American should be connected. If not now, when? And if not us, who?
Thank you. Thank you all and we we have votes beginning at noon. It's now at 1036. Let's agree we're going to strictly enforce the five minute rule and that that doesn't mean getting You're all of your question in in five minutes. It's the question and answer in five minutes, and I'll be using the gavel to try to get us all a chance to. To do that, Mr. spotter, you were talking about the broadband data act just now. And and you said it needs to be funded? How much is that going to cost in your estimation? And how important is that?
Oh, thank you for the question. And also, thank you again, for your support of that very important legislation. We're grateful for. We expect that the we undertook pilot studies and we've been able to model that we think that we can actually scale and get the national maps done at a cost of about $25 million, give or take with annual plus ups to maintain the mapping exercises going forward. We think we can also do it. Now that we've actually undertook that important spadework in modeling these maps. We think we can actually get and deploy nationally these maps in a matter of months. Okay.
I sure hope so. Let's move on. And I began. In my testimony talking about the fact that we've seen internet usage increased by as much as 47%. Since the pandemic began, I made the statement that our networks are performing and responding well to this dramatic increase in usage. Let's just ask all four of you to comment on this. Have I Got it? Right? And, and if we're doing better, why is that?
I'll jump in Mr. Chair.
Okay. Good. We'll, we'll do you and then we'll go back to Mr. Berry and then just surfing the panel.
You know, we have definitely seen an increase in the utilization of our networks up to about 40%. The, the interesting thing is we focus so much on download speeds, and what we're seeing is that the upload speeds are also that that need for that upload is is increasing as well. Were folks particularly because we're using so much You know, two way communications. So you know, I think that it's going to be important to continue to build these future proof networks. That is why I think these networks, even though we're seeing the length of the time of the network usage expand, to fill the day because people are working from home and students are taking their classes from home. So you're not seeing that peak time when people are streaming videos at night to relax. You're just seeing a longer heavier use of that network. But again, it's both upload and download speeds. And that is why we are so bullish about the fact that you all have supported fiber investment because that is allowing these networks to sustain that.
Are we doing well on the on the uploads in the downloads?
That's the beauty of fiber. Mr. Berry.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
You get close to the microphone.
Okay. Is that Is that good? Good. All right. Thank you. You know, wireless is a little different in the sense that our networks are resilient, because many of them are self contained. They especially in the rural areas. build a network so that it be the network that they would like to utilize. They build in and the possibility of innovation. They build in the possibility of competing with other carriers in the network. I think you're seeing the United States, fiber and wireless they build to connect with other networks that have very high quality of service standards, so that you know what you're getting when you're connecting with the network. And there is there is some resiliency and multiple access to the network. So we not only have a wireline capability, we have wireless, fixed wireless, we have backhaul that can be provided by cable companies as well as wireline in many of the wireless companies using microwave so we have a variety of opportunities to modify and provide diversity in the network itself. And then the one of the things that surely mentioned entrepreneurial spirit, there's a idea that they can build a better network and attract more customers and keep them because they provide better service. And then the smaller carriers have been. They've been doing for 2530 years.
Good. We've got a minute now to squeeze Mr. spelter and Mr. Kimmelman in on this topic, Mr. Salter?
Sure. I'll be very quick. We are monitoring very carefully in network performance in network capacity. We publish them these data on our website,
we do it better than other countries. We are in fact and
why is that one of the directories and sir is because we have made the ability to have a policy framework that allows and incentivize in network investment by our sector upwards of $70 billion annually. This light touch flexible, forward looking approach has given us the ability to keep a new normal performance during times of surge in an emergency. And it's it's the key ingredient that's going to keep this success going. Okay, Mr. Kimmelman,
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I certainly hope these companies are doing that kind of performance and or that focus, but just ask your constituents, just people in rural America have all kinds of problems getting connected, keeping speeds up, people in inner cities have some of the same problems. I mean, we're hearing it, I'd say, you know, your constituents can better answer that one. And I really appreciate you staying on the companies in the FCC to get the maps done, and get the service included. There. There are a lot of gaps and holes and I hope the companies are on.
Okay, thank you very much.
Senator Cantwell. Thank you, Mr. Cohen. We're hearing you loud and clear. By the way.
I wanted to ask you your testimony. I think you have a longer version of it that cited many issues, but particularly you're calling for a comprehensive legislative package. That bigger goes beyond short term measures and I couldn't agree with you more. I think the witnesses have outlined why this is so critical. The question is, how do we, what are the solutions? So, you mentioned a couple of things in your testimony, more competition, some reliance on municipal entities, you bring up both something creative that West Virginia did in working with their communities. And then obviously this horrific example that you have of Yakima County, which is one of the hardest hit COVID spots. I think it is the the most hard hit West Coast County, Yakima, Washington, where 30% of students do not have access to internet services. So what what one or two things should we be doing now to try to address this in a more comprehensive way? And I'm intrigued by your statement about the the press and the deleted have information to you know, we have been pushing to have the next PPP coverage, make sure that broadcasters and news entities and also can apply because they we've had we've lost 10s of thousands of not more jobs from broadcasters and I want the local information to be there. So if you have any other ideas what we should be doing there, I'd like to hear from them. But what one or two things should we be doing on broadband now to be more comprehensive than the current programs we have?
Well, you just have to, first of all, expand Lifeline eat rate, money to telehealth, you're ready taking some of these initiatives. That's the stop gap to get us over. We need to update the Universal Service Fund. We need broader contributions. The broader players in the broadband service ecosystem is going to take a lot more money. The infrastructure is expensive. That's We call for sharing oversight. And the competition is critical because we're no we're not regulating every jot and tittle here. So there's a variety of ways to let communities participate more, open the door to more competition, don't let states block competition in broadband. And on the democracy front, what we've learned is that as we rely on broadband, the way in which we get that critical local news and information from broadcasters and newspapers, increasingly depends on internet delivery. And in the digital marketplace, we're seeing the flow of advertising revenue diminish most direct dramatically for newspapers will come from broadcasting as well. We need a new business model there. And I believe that what we're seeing with the explosion of the internet is with all the good information, there's a lot of pollution That bad information. So information falsehood about the virus, and more broadly, is dangerous to our democracy. So I believe you need a specialized fund, like the Superfund was for toxic waste cleanup, let's get information cleanup. And let's get it resource to support news gathering, fact checking, helping people navigate their way to get around disinformation and falsehood. So I call really a comprehensive program. It's time to update the law and address all of this together because all of these issues are intertwined.
Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Senator Cantwell, Senator blunt.
Thank you, Chairman, great to be with you and be part of this. This hearing and so one of the hearings we've done in the last few days. You A technology that we hadn't used before where some of us are in the hearing room and some of us are not some of the witnesses are in the hearing room, others are somewhere else. I think what we've seen in the last several weeks is a huge leap forward in people's not only willingness to use technology, but also a greater understanding of our dependence on that technology. And really, I'm going to try to focus on a couple of questions here quickly. One is what if you don't have even the possibility of access to broadband like too many rural Missourians and rural Americans don't have and the other would be what if you have access, but you can't afford it? So let's go first to the first question on access. I think I'll just Bloomfield and anybody that wants to answer this question for the record. Certainly could, would there be merit to the Congress beginning to That some deadlines of our own on how quickly these auctions and distributions need to occur. I know there's some discussion now of moving the proposals September deadline, or word. But even if that was if all we did was make the September deadline mandatory, would it be helpful or not to have a more clear understanding of when these things were going to happen?
For the world digital Opportunity Fund, which is the auction that I believe you are referring to, which will be the next tranche of really figuring out where those unserved Americans are, and committing $16 billion over the next 10 years to connect those folks, I think I actually think they're on track to begin the process in October, which I think given that we really want to make sure we know where those who are served and those who are underserved and those who are served exist, I think the ability to start some of them mapping initiatives that hopefully can also get support. I think this puts us in a good time frame. I think the thing that I would be loath to see is that kind of effort delayed. I think we're on track. I think we need to start moving quickly. And I think we need to unify both the art off program as well as the reconnect program working out of USDA, I think in concert, those programs can actually do some significant good.
Well, I hope that's right. I believe that's right. And and I think all of us believe that we can't continue to delay much longer. I think the FCC has moved forward in good faith here, but we might at some point decide that there have to be even more parameters on Windows things have to occur. On the other topic of access but no affordability. Mr. Berry, would you talk a little bit about what we might do to help people get access to this effort that could be telemedicine? It certainly has been tele education For most Americans are an elementary and secondary school and even college for the last several months. So could we be doing more to help people afford to be part of that process?
Thank you, Senator. Yes, I truly believe so. I think the right program that the Senator Cantwell mentioned, I think Senator Markey has a bill that would actually encourage filling some of those gaps on the educational side. And we need a rollout of broadband services that also include fiber but also wireless and many times wireless, the wireless connection may be the the fastest opportunity to connect, especially in those areas that are not connected. But I can't say enough that we have to find where those places are. You need the broadband data act that you passed in this committee, and we need to get on with Where are those holes? Where are those needs? And then that's fine. The money to fill those gaps. And I would suggest that Jean Kim Olmos actually is absolutely right. We need contribution reform under the USF program, you can no longer sustain enhanced spending on broadband activities. If you're basing that on a revenue from my long distance wireline declining fund, when the when the the cost gets up to 25% of your bill, because you're making contributions to USF, you're you're pushing the envelope and you're not getting any more money to do what is everyone in this room has said is that is we need more broadband, and those areas that are either underserved or not connected, and I think we need to find those places first. Thank goodness, this committee did that. And now we need to get on with the business of what is the resource requirement to actually get it done.
Yeah, that can be a second mission. Chairman,
well done, Senator blunt and now we move to center club Machar, you are recognized.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Thank you to you and Senator Cantwell and I wanted to note, thank you to Senator blunt. For the work we've done together to make these remote hearings a reality, the Rules Committee, I wanted to start with this disparity that we're seeing that I thought Senator Cantwell did such a great job of going through those statistics and our own state, a state that's home to so many great technology companies and you see this not just in Washington State, but all over the country where kids are now being asked to learn from home and parents who are asked to teach them the disparity when they don't even have access to internet. We have the story out of Minnesota where one of our tribal communities when someone got internet there in one household high speed was able to pay for it. All the kids gathered in the front yard to do their homework. We just can't have that continue into the summer and into The rest of the year. So my first question of you, is Bloomfield, as you mentioned, the bill that I have with Senator Kramer, we now have 28 co sponsors, including eight members of the committee, number of Republicans and Democrats on this bill, which allows our smaller providers to keep providing service because the last thing we want to do in rural areas right now is to cut off service. Could you briefly describe why that is so important?
Absolutely. And thanks for your leadership, Senator Klobuchar, on this legislation. And I'm proud to say we're now 230 members of the Senate and nine on the committee. This bill is really important because what it does is it basically allows the spirit of the pledge at the FCC to continue which is that people will not be cut off of critical service right now because of economic hardship due to COVID-19. And students will be connected. So what the bill does is basically allows companies to make that delta between what customers cannot afford to pay anymore and to continue to keep that money. Service up at that level or even a higher level. So it is you think about it as essential services, I think about the analogies of the grocery store, or newspapers. They're essential right now, right. But you can't expect the doors of those stores to be open 24 seven, and people take things off the shelf and expect them to continue to operate, you've got to be able to continue to support the support of the network, the ability for the technicians, to connect the schoolchildren, to upgrade the speeds for those who are now working from home. So the bill actually helps create that builds that delta in what people cannot afford to pay any longer. That in conjunction potentially with a lifeline program could be very powerful at this point in time. But that support is so essential if we're really going to say that broadband connectivity is what we need right now. The support through that legislation is going to be absolutely necessary to ensure these network providers can continue to operate and keep people connected.
Thank you very much, Mr. Kimmelman, It's good to see you out of the antitrust setting here today. And I want to talk to you about something we haven't focused as much on. And that is all the people in assisted living, who are no longer able to see their loved ones, except virtually, and it's a very, very lonely existence. And of course, also, we all know, also a scary existence right now. And we've sadly lost so many people who are seniors. In your testimony, you highlight how many older Americans can't connect with their friends and their families. Senator Casey and capital and I are leading the access act, to expand telehealth to facilitate virtual visits. Could you talk briefly about this?
But we also support your other bill with Senator Kramer, we think it's essential for the companies to be there in order for consumers to even have the access to broadband. So obviously, this crisis has shown us that we can't communicate. We can't Keep up with our families and those particularly who have special needs like those in assisted living. We're fully dependent on high speed internet connection, to just interact with them to just get some sense of how their life is going, what they need from us, what we can do for them to keep people, people working their way through this and trying to deal with the struggles of the dangers of this pandemic. So it's just become crystal clear that telehealth is fundamental to healthcare delivery. And we need to build that into the system.
Thank you. And I can ask you this on the record, but as you know, we're working on the lifeline program with, as you noted, only 40% of households eligible for Lifeline have actually subscribed. And that's something that we want to continue to focus on. And then finally, just This week, we put out the connectivity for higher education students in niak. With centers for orono. Peters and Rosen have the committee to create a fund to help some of our college students who are having the same problem that high school and elementary have. And as we know, a lot of our students of color are having incredible problems accessing and here they are worked so hard to get into college, and now they're unable to compete and to be part of that college experience if they don't have the internet, when 10 seconds on that because my dad,
thank you, Senator, we appreciate your leadership. These are all critical needs. They're intertwined. You just remind me that the first Lifeline bill I worked on was sponsored by Senator Heinz a long, long time ago. I hope we can continue to make sure affordability is there for everyone.
All right. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman,
and Senator Klobuchar and Senator blunt. Do Thank you for your leadership on the Rules Committee in helping to make the technology possible and smooth the way for really a different day and approach in being able to hold these hearings remotely. Senator Fischer, you are recognized.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We've heard from some of my other colleagues about really the challenges that our students are facing right now when it comes to trying to work at home and being dependent upon their digital connections. And for those who don't have that access, it is it is not just the the effects of a pandemic that is stressing, but also the the ripple effect out and how this is affecting their lives not having that. We all know that expanding broadband takes time and it takes investment but I would like to begin with you, Mr. Salter, and ask if you have any ideas on any kind of short term strategies that we can look at for this connectivity that can support the students that are home right now, and trying to maintain and grow in a different environment with regard to their education.
Well, thank you for that question, Senator. And I think that we are already seeing extraordinary voluntary steps that are being taken by providers large, regional and local, including right in your state. Companies like Great Plains that have been extending Wi Fi hotspots and service upgrades and installations to families that have students in need to move forward. But it's not just them. It's Hamilton and sod town and CenturyLink and frontier and others that are doing exactly this kind of work in your state and across the country. I wrote a letter to the FCC commissioners at the very outset of this crisis saying we needed to move very rapidly to establish emergency funding programs akin to Lifeline akin to a rate to be able to accelerate our ability to get broadband service to our communities that are in need, particularly our learners in a home environment. And we have to be innovative not only the government side, but also continue the innovation that our companies are showing on the ground supporting their communities and their students.
Miss Blumenfeld, when we when we look at partnerships, we always talk about public private partnerships. This is such an important move for the days that we're looking at right now having schools being able to partner not just with with other government entities not not just looking for funding in trying to move forward but to be able to partner with small companies. Mr. spelter mentioned so many that we have in Nebraska Give it a step forward.
What else can we do to encourage that kind of partnership to and to encourage interested parties to be able to reach out and honestly, just move us forward at a quicker pace? You know, I mentioned how long it takes to get anything built out when it comes to infrastructure that that really applies to broadband. So
how, how are we going to do this in a timely manner and be and be ready for not just the Far, far distant future, but how are we going to be ready in another month or two? And And not only that, Senator, but I think we start to look and say what's going to happen in the fall, you know, we're hitting the end of the school year, but we need to be ready that this is not just a, you know, two month blip, that we're gonna have to be ready to continue this education and at home and I think your point on partnerships is so important. One of the things that, you know, my companies have the advantage in that they're community based, but I still think everybody needs That a little bit of a push to say, talk to your local health clinic, talk to your school superintendents. When we saw folks kick into action really fast, it was those that had those really tight relationships that knew they could go to the administrator and say, who in your school district doesn't have broadband? Who do we need to reach out to to connect? Who do we need to bring broadband in a box to their front door to get them up and running? And I would say the same with telehealth, right. I think right now, we're not seeing a lot of that money from the FCC going to small clinics. But let's get those critical conversations going in these communities. They need that connectivity just as much as an urban area does. And getting the carrier's getting the public officials, having those conversations and maybe even, you know, having folks like you go back home and facilitate some of those will help kick some of that off.
Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
If I may, Senator Fischer. One of the things that is not normally known as that There are impediments in the programs that sometimes keep carriers from actually reaching out and doing that. I mean, the FCC was pretty good at lifting some of the requirements for donations. We have carriers that have given him Wi Fi Wi Fi slots, and, and, and tablets to members. I mean, two children that they couldn't have given before. And that's been very much appreciated, and it's maybe it's something we ought to think about going forward.
Thank you, Mr. Berry. We can talk later about that. My time has expired.
Thank you. Thank you very much. I'm told that Senator Udall is next.
Thank you, Chairman wicker and Ranking Member Cantwell and great to be here with you today. Today's hearing is titled, The state of broadband amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The state of broadband throughout the country depends on where you live, if you're located in Indian Country, The state of broadband is unacceptable. And I'm glad that Senator club Machar raised this issue as far as the Minnesota tribes and tribes across the nation. Prior to COVID-19 tribal communities were significantly behind much of the nation in terms of access to affordable broadband service. Sadly, the pandemic has only exacerbated this, all tribal communities grapple with COVID-19 response, they must simultaneously adjust to an increasingly broadband Reliant society. Now more than ever, broadband service is critical to telemedicine to online education and to teleworking. My bill the bridging the tribal digital divide act sought to update existing authorities to rapidly address this inequity. One provision of my bill created a tribal set aside under the universal service is fun similar to what the FCC did under the tribal mobility fund. This is a question to all the panelists here. What should Congress and the FCC do in order to bridge the tribal digital divide? And do you support further set asides under the Universal Service Fund for tribal communities?
Let me begin, Senator, it's good to see you again, even if virtually, I would be very happy to take a very close look at the tribal digital divide act that you and senators Cantwell and Gardner have put forward. I can tell you that our industry is doing its best to work is to work closely and in close coordination with a Native American community and is committed to continue to work closely with them. I know that Senator Cantwell had worked with CenturyLink to identify fortress for example, and they have Bay on the Olympic Peninsula occupied by the market tribe, they're in a Coast Guard Station is very much in need of broadband service and so alternate Their own calf build out plans to ensure service was available in the Bay in Washington. Recently, then the Navajo Nation leadership at worked to expedite permitting and rights of way issues that were impeding the speedy delivery of broadband to Navajo lands in Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Frontier Communications working with them getting this permitting. streamlining done now is able to actually deliver broadband to those communities that are being hit most hard by COVID-19. There's a number of steps and there's a number of points of light ahead, and I really look forward to evaluate in your legislation on the days ahead.
And Senator, I would just say, obviously, tribal lands have unique challenges. We would also be really interested in your legislation, we have a number of tribal communication companies. And I would go back to the points that has been made about contribution reform being so important because there's so many different needs that we have To use that support and ways to bridge some of these divides. The other thing I would end with is take a look at what sacred wind is doing in your state. They're doing amazing things. They are bringing literally remote broadband access to the to folks on the reservation right now and doing some amazing things and really innovative ways and I'm really proud of the work that they're doing.
And same here, Senator, I think the tribal lands have long been overlooked. We have several members that actually service tribal lands. A good example is at NIH, in New Mexico and Arizona applied for the sta as the special temporary authority permits to increase access to spectrum and they were able to turn up 54 sites doubling capacity, literally in a week's time, five to six days in the very tribal lands that you know, that that we care so much about about serving more. And I think some of those lessons that we're learning now and respect disaggregation and and also spectrum partitioning, partitioning should be should be explored as we move from relief to a more normal process. So, we would greatly appreciate the opportunity to work with you on their legislation. I think it's very much needed. initiative.
Senator Udall, we fully support your legislation. We think that it's critical. We appreciate your leadership along with Senator Cantwell in highlighting this important inequity. And I believe we should immediately be pushing the FCC to use its Lifeline program and E Ray program to make more resources available to tribal lands.
Thank you yield back, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you. We've seen as we've noted earlier now more than ever, is rely on technology to do our job. And stay connected to our families and friends. Just the importance of reliable internet connectivity, and ensuring that all parts of the country have reliable access to broadband services is critical. without access to these services, we wouldn't have students continuing their education through distance learning. Many parts of the country's workforce wouldn't be able to telework and we wouldn't be able to provide essential telehealth services to many individuals. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. I've been encouraged by the performance of both mobile and fixed broadband networks in the United States. carriers by and large are meeting consumers demands and even with the unprecedented amount of traffic on our communications networks, they have stepped up to keep our country connected. So we thank you for that. This is much different from what we are seeing in other parts of the world. Take for example, Europe, which has pursued a more heavy handed regulatory approach to broadband services. This has resulted in far less investment in communications network expansion. And now today we're seeing their network struggled to keep up with the increased demands because of the light touch. approach to broadband regulation by the federal government, the United States, we've seen access to these critical services expand significantly, including to some of the most rural areas of the country. And if we want the internet to continue to thrive and serve as an engine for Economic Innovation and advancement, we should ensure that our policies continue to encourage more investment by the private sector in our communications networks. Mr. Salter? Could you just talk about what impact the current US broadband regulatory climate has had on broadband investment, especially in rural areas? And would you expect the same level of investment in the broadband sector was more heavily regulated?
I think that the extraordinary performance that we're seeing in our networks today and the ability to have expanded broadband access, albeit still work to be done, is directly as a direct result and is no accident to the exactly that light touch flexible for looking at and I must stress this bipartisan approach that has been the hallmark of American innovation policy for fully a generation. The reason that Americans broadband companies can invest upwards of $70 billion annually in our nation's infrastructure to bring broadband best in the world broadband to our citizens is directly related to that policy framework. If we want to continue the runway for this kind of progress as we transit to new generations of service, and to fundamentally do the important work of closing the digital divide once and for all, that framework is a critical input. And without it, we are going to regress, not progress.
Mr. Berry, you referenced that in your testimony as well. Could you expand on those regulatory burdens and how they will continue to affect carriers once the pandemic is over, especially as we think about transitioning to 5g Technologies.
Thank you, Senator. Your streamline cell siting act is something we've very much support. We appreciate the effort you and Senator shots have been stellar in your effort on that. I think that was going to help us advance five years Not only 4g LTE voltage and 5g, as we move forward, we're seeing a lot of pent up need for licensing and permitting. Because, you know, the local, county state governments that are approved the permits are sheltering in place also. So I think we're going to see an opportunity right after the the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, to have a new initiative and building out rural broadband especially in in the rural areas where you need to approve sites and especially on federal lands. So thank you for that legislative initiative. Thank you. Miss Bloomfield, it's clear that this pandemic has highlighted the importance of reliable broadband services. And I know you've spoken I think to this already, but what steps should Congress take to ensure that truly unserved areas are getting access to these services?
Well, thank you very much, Senator. I think you've also taken a huge step by by initiating some mapping initiative So again, we can kind of do do it right, do it smart. As we've talked about with this panel today, Robin deployment is not a cheap proposition, but we know how critical it is. And I think we've seen over the past few months that it's more critical than we even knew. So the key is to do it right. The key is to make the best use of those resources to take programs that you've got, like the upcoming art of auction at the FCC to take the reconnect support from USDA, how do you marry those programs together? And then how do you also interject potentially what state initiatives might be so that you are getting the best bang for your buck? you're reaching the most Americans and you're making sure that we're not doing this again in another 510 years.
And very quickly, as a follow up to that to Mr. Berry, because we did pass and Miss Bloomfield referenced the broadband data Act, which is legislation aimed at improving the mapping process at the FCC. How important is it that we get the data right as we deploy new broadband networks?
I think it's absolutely absolutely crucial. Senator said we, if you go back a decade when we did the first broadband map, and then the stimulus programs thereafter, it was a shot in the dark. They spent, we spent billions of dollars not knowing where the money should actually go. We have an opportunity A decade later, through the legislation that this committee passed to get it right. And I think it's the old saying measure twice, cut once. Well, I think if you only have $9 billion over 10 years for a mobile product, and you have about three times that on a wireline product, you got to get it right the first time. And I would hate to think that we're going to overlook those areas that could and should and very well need to be connected, because we don't know where they are. It just boggles my mind that we can't actually focus our resources in the areas that are most need. think
everyone is listening there, Mr. Berry Senator tester, are you with
us? Yeah, thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'm a thinking ranking member and the folks who testify that day and I kind of want follow up where we just left off. It actually blows my mind also, because I'm in one of those areas where we do have pretty decent internet. In fact, it's pretty damn good.
The problem is, is this thing right here
works only if you hold your mouse in a certain position and and and it drives me a little crazy. So I want to mapping has been talked about a couple times here. And I guess I'm gonna start getting direct this to anybody, but I'm going to direct it to you Shirley, Bloomfield, can we build out in the unserved areas without a good mapping program?
So Senator even possible I first of all, I'm hoping one of my members serves you But I believe I checked after the last hearing to make sure you were served by a community based provider of their Montana. Yeah, mapping is really important mapping is critical. We we we need to know what we need to know. The other part of that component I would also add is the challenge process. So part of it is you've got the mapping, you've got people putting in data, you've got people self certifying, the other part of that is the ability and this is one thing that I think R Us does extremely well, is before they put money into the ground. If it's contested, they go out and they check and they literally do speed checks. And they say, you know, if you said this is what you're going to get, this is what I'm getting out here in the field. I think those two things go hand in hand. Let's let's get better data. Let's compile it let's let's figure out what we need to know and where we need to build. But at the same time, let's make sure we're also able to challenge before we put money in the ground.
Right on so just for the record. I think one of your members does serve me the internet, which isn't too bad at all. I don't want to embarrass him the Verizon claims If this works on my place, and like I said, it depends on what corner of the house you're standing in as to whether it works. So getting back to the point Surely, on the maps, and anybody else can answer this to the FCC, unless they change their position has said, we're just going to start building out because we can't get the information on match quick. I would
jump in and let somebody else answer as well. But the beauty of the art off is they're going to start with a completely unserved so I think that allows us to keep the process moving, but at the same time starting off where you know, you've got no service. So I think that's actually a wise course of action
center. Let me address that just a little I. I think we can walk and chew chewing gum at the same time. I think we can identify where the holes are by gathering the data. I mean, Senate Chairman pi testified in the Appropriations Committee about three and a half months ago. And he said along with Mr. Sponsor said that it's a matter of months to get the data, not yours. And they produced what I call was a false choice in their 5g fun, where you can either spend the money now without knowing where it's going or the impact it's going to have. Or you can wait for three years to get the right data to spend $1. That's absolutely a false choice that should not be should not be proposed by the agency of expertise.
I agree with you hundred percent. And thanks for saying that. Because the truth is, is that look, if one thing this pandemics pointed out, is we need, we need high speed internet, we need good cell service. Otherwise we don't have healthcare that can be distance. We don't have tell education when schools are not out. So it's really important. I just got one last question. I'll direct this to you, Mr. Berry. And that is if you had the money, do we have the workforce and you spoke of BP? Do we have the PPD to protect that work?
Thank you center. We been getting sufficient amounts of EPA to our members. And I think all of the group setting here at the table, have had some experience with the FEMA, but that has now starting to wane. And many of our carriers now are seeing that, whether it's mask or handset or sanitizers and hand gloves. It's getting more and more difficult actually, we're trying to find and locate providers of those services and goods and equipment for our members now because it is getting very difficult to do that. And you're right. You can't keep the network's up and running, if the crews and the employees are unsafe when they go out to do it. So I appreciate the question and I hope that we can get a little better response going forward. I
could I could not agree more with Mr. Berry. We are in dire need of additional resources to ensure that whatever has been designated as a critical infrastructure essential workforce. Our frontline broadband providers are out there every day trying to get installs done often in harm's way can have the protective equipment that's required. We've been literally shipping cotton masks from our offices, to our members, we've got to make sure that that pipeline of of safety and opportunity for health for our workers is in is in place and intact.
Thank you all. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Senator tester, Mr. Berry, let me just ask you this because we really need to know, Miss Bloomfield said with the AR doff, which is right upon us. It's the maps are less of a problem than with the long term five g fund because they will serve they will be directed toward completely unserved areas. Can we have a comfort level there? I
I haven't believed that our golf would also be benefited by better information, but they have and they move forward and they've set some deadlines. We have many members that are looking at that. And I would hate to see it moved up, because those that have been planning on participating in the September October timeframe could be disadvantaged. But I think that everyone could benefit from better data. Okay, well, you got
you got that and I was gonna give everybody a chance to comment on that. But But if everyone would speak to that in answers on the record, because we really need to know that
but this thing's got to happen.
At least in the timeframe that has been laid out and October be here for you know, it, things have to unfold before then but but do we have we answer on the record Do we have a comfort level that that that is going to go only to unserved areas. Next, we have Senator Moran, thank you for indulging me. Members of the committee. Senator Moran, you there.
I'm here, Mr. Chairman, thank you wouldn't surprise you or maybe our witnesses that I'm going to continue along the line that you just asked about. And a number of my colleagues have asked this morning, the inaccuracy of the maps. And they're caught in that consequence of that. When the maps were provided to me months ago, I don't know how long ago it was now. You could look at a map and see that it did not reflect reality in Kansas. And it would be easy to go places where the map says there's coverage and clearly demonstrate that there isn't. So we've been at this map issue for a long time and it does seem I serve on the Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the FCC was at the hearing and was just described. It seems to me that too often this has been presented to me and to Congress to the Senate as kind of an all or nothing, these maps, we can use these and we can get it done or we can modify the maps it will take a while and in the lot and during that while the deployment of broadband will be slowed or or eliminated. So, I and led an effort a couple weeks ago with the Kansas delegation in corresponding with the FCC regarding what balance there should be between the accuracy and the granular data. The information that we're looking for, versus versus if that's the case versus the speed of deploying federal broadband funding through particularly through the five g fund auction. I was gonna ask Mr. Berry, and you just headed him down this path. But let me start with Mr. Berry. So do we see the the one versus the other. I heard what Mrs. Move was Miss Miss Bloomfield said about this issue. I'm looking for the same kind of assurance perhaps the chairman was asking for. Isn't there a way or is there a way let me be less definitive in my views? Is there a way in which we can continue to deploy broadband while we acquire the necessary information to do it accurately and appropriately? And while the United States Senate in the Congress provides additional resources to the FCC to accomplish that?
Very, thank you, Senator. And let me thank you for your letter to the FCC. That was a extraordinary letter and I think brought a lot of light to the subject matter. So yes, I think we can. I, you know, it's been five months I've been focused on 5g mainly because that's more wireless. And wireline, it's easier to figure out where the wireline goes and where it stops and who's it serving. Then in a wireless scenario, when you have A broad area that is it's controlled by physics and in the spectrum manipulation. So I think you can do both. I, again, our golf is more focused on a wireline and a fixed wireless solution. And I think in those areas, you may have a much better chance of saying we know there is no line that goes in this place. On the wireless side. I think you have to have good data and this committee was very specific with the legislative statute and the terms and conditions and requirements. After five months of announcing the 5g fun. I haven't heard the FCC one time asked for additional funds from your subcommittee or this committee, or as started a new mapping data collection process. It's disappointing to say the least.
Let me ask the others on the panel if they would like to add to this discussion. I wouldn't I would send it to you if I
could. I'm not surprised. So first of all, nobody I think in the United States of America wants to deploy broadband more quickly and rapidly and efficiently than us telecom on our members. And I say that because our members have deployed more fiber than all other parts of our industry combined. And as experts, I would say that, yes, we can move quickly, but we need to move forward particularly in the context of the rural digital Opportunity Fund, the auction for which is coming up in just five months, in a way that's not going to subvert as some have. Some have suggested. The competition put taxpayers at risk, potentially have money left on the table by appending. The rules now to get money out the door in an unvetted way. In absence of the competition and the process. The FCC is moving forward on with its auction process. I think we can go through this auction And move very rapidly and the opportunity for Congress is it is your prerogative to insist that the FCC not change its rules midstream and potentially cause risk to the program into future broadband deployment. But insist that those companies that have been successfully for gigabit fiber to the home census blocks or tracks, the qualified and approved immediately and the money go out the door immediately after the auction to do so before the auction by changing the rules to potentially benefit just one competitor and their consultants would be financially prudent and fiscally irresponsible and we put taxpayers on the line.
Thank you, Mr. Salter, and
my request for other members to other panelists to speak. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
On the record, we appreciate you indulging us there senator Markey
during this pandemic, it's not just The homework Yeah, which we face. It's a much larger learning gap that is really becoming an opportunity gap for the children of our most vulnerable families. And that's why yesterday I introduced the emergency educational connections act legislation that would provide $4 billion in e raised funding when sure that all K through 12 students have homework access at home. So they have the connectivity they have the devices that they are going to need during this Coronavirus, academic. And I'm proud that 45 of my colleagues join this bill, including every democratic member of the committee, and that our effort was endorsed by over 50 organizations, including the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, Common Sense Media, US Telecom, CTIA, and CTA. So my question is to the entire panel Do you support providing billions of dollars to bridge the learning During the public health crisis, yes. Yes.
Yes, along with that cost.
We believe that there should be absolutely programs, emergency programs to supplement and direct dollars for Erie Lifeline and to do so as quickly as we possibly can.
Yes, at every market, we fully support your effort.
So thank you. And I think it's a, I think it's gonna be critical for us to include that money in this next package. Although students must be a top priority, they are unfortunately not the only ones during internet access the crisis that we're having during this pandemic. According to a February 2020 analysis. 42 million Americans still lack reliable broadband, and that is simply unacceptable. During the Coronavirus crisis, more than ever, we are seeing how NASA robust and affordable broadband is the future of American life education, jobs and medical care. That's why I have introduced a national broadband plan for the future act legislation that instructs the FCC to update the National Broadband Plan, as well as to study how the Coronavirus pandemic has changed the way Americans live work and, and learn online. I authored the amendment to the 2009 Recovery Act that created the original National Broadband Plan. I'm proud of that plans roadmap, a universal connectivity and the amazing progress we've made over the last 10 years work remains to be done. Mr. Kimmelman you agree that we should update the National Broadband Plan in the next rotavirus relief package?
Absolutely, Senator Markey and I think needs to be done in conjunction with getting the money flowing for the actual initiatives. We can't just do the plan. We have to do all the other pieces to keep Many people on the broadband networks,
but we need to plan as well. So a vision without funding isn't elucidation. But first you need a plan. Make sure that it's spent correctly. So thank you. And, Mr. Chairman, I'll just say that finally I'll close on two notes. First, we must also address the tea band in our next Coronavirus package every day first responders on the frontlines of the COVID-19 prices rely on T band spectrum. Unfortunately, a provision from a 2012 tax law required the FCC to auction the T ban by February of 2021. Instead of saddling first responders with billions and bills to move spectrum bands, Congress should do right by the heroes to keep us safe and preserve the access to tea band and the next open 19 recovery legislation. And second, this committee must continue to work and conduct oversight to ensure we keep small businesses connected and that carry on Not unfairly raising rates in the midst of this pandemic. What's most important today, more than ever, is that we keep everyone connected. And that's why I'm so glad that you're having this timely hearing. Mr. Chairman, I yield back.
Thank you. Thank you so much, Senator Markey. Senator Blackburn.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to our witnesses. I think it's fair to say that each of you have been on this subject for a long time. I enjoyed working with you in the house as I crafted the red bombs act and move that to passage and reauthorization of the FCC and of course, we were so pleased that was able to be seated by the Senate action and it did set up an expansion for high speed internet and for joining us on the right path, or five G and Mr. Berry. I appreciate it. That you talked about that and I about 5g and I will have to tell you in bringing up the USF, it is time for us to review that and reform it or either eliminate it and be able to address that component of the portion of an individual's will that goes to that Miss Bloomfield. We talked about maps. One of my topics, we know that the maps have been corrected. There's been quite a bit of discussion today. And my hope is that the NTIA will address this in Tennessee we have 20.3% of our state that is still without access to high speed internet. I'm one of those without it in order to work here and he is endemic, my staff ended up sending a mobile hotspot that we were able to use but our landline provider has a space that does not that is still own copper and doesn't have fiber and I've been in that area. So you're right. It makes life difficult for everyone and Mr. Salter, I hope that you will start to think not just in terms of smart cities, but smart counties, smart rural areas, as you look for ways to expand access to high speed internet. In that vein, I think Miss Boone Phil, let me come to you with my question last year. Senator Baldwin and I did the internet Exchange Act and having these ix peas located so we could move greater volume of data. We need to begin to rethink the placement and rethink that access because as we have seen people are moving out of the urban core and into rural areas for safety of their children and their families and there's quite a bit
Which I thought was so innovative, a school district in Alabama had Wi Fi in a school buses. So in order to help children get their schoolwork done during the pandemic, they moved the school buses into neighborhoods at fire station so that children could come. So a big cheer for Wi Fi and that ability and 5g and the ability for them to handle that workload and be able to have enough bandwidth to meet the needs of those children. I thought that was a great way to to get those tasks done. So thank you all for your continued work, support and interest. I yield back Mr.
Chairman. Thank you Senator Blackburn center Rosen.
Thank you, Chairman wicker Ranking Member Cantwell, for holding this important hearing. And of course, for all the witnesses being here today. I appreciate Senator Blackburn talking about rural communities because we have a lot in Nevada but I particularly want to thank this committee for helping get my bipartisan building blocks of STEM act that I introduced with Senator capital signed into law last year, we passed that bill. We didn't know we would be facing a global pandemic that fundamentally changes the way we provide students with education at bill was about breaking down barriers for young girls pursuing STEM education, facing implicit bias, but now it says senator Fischer mentioned earlier we are dealing with the technological barriers, which could place education out of the reach for millions of underserved American students, said senator Blackburn. It's a particularly challenge in our rural areas. In a city like Elko, Nevada, it's a wonderful and vibrant community in the northeastern part of our great state. It is ranked among the top cities nationwide for the slowest internet speed. It's a list you don't want to be on the top of. And no city in Nevada right here the top actually for the highest internet speeds so Alcoa is not alone. 65% of our world population is without access to high speed internet, compared to just 5% of our urban centers. And so Elko with a population of about 20,000 has made significant efforts to incentivize providers to deploy broadband to their community for which its leadership should be commended. But to encourage providers to deploy the city even dropped franchise fees to zero. So far, it is still not received any offers telecommunication companies, so I know that we're going to speak to this and and What else? What can a city like Elko do if it has no takers from telecommunication companies they need to improve their internet all around Nevada, we need to improve our internet rural Nevada, what suggestions might you have for them?
Well, Senator, I'll start some of our carriers, especially in rural Mississippi and some of the areas that are very difficult to to, to reach, have gone around and signed up. Government businesses slash pre pre designated locations. And once you get enough of those interested companies and individuals to sign on, then they could see a business case to get alone and actually build not only fiber but wireless or fixed wireless in it. That that's one area that you can do it. One way you can do it without government support. The other is if we get broadband data mapping done that would show up significantly as a whole or a gap. And we could target funds that are already available under the, I don't know, it's the 5g phone or the art of fun, or even some of the existing mobility to funds. Those are the couple things that you can do immediately, but immediately, but I think it really is up to the local government entities to help identify carriers that are willing to take that risk to go in and build.
And Senator, I would also just add in this spirit of thinking creatively, you know, one of the things about art off that I really like is that it is it is telling carriers who don't want to upgrade who aren't willing to go to that next tier of speed to basically cry uncle and say, All right, I'm not going to serve this area and allow other providers to come in and do that service. So I think, to Steve's point, you know, being able to get some of that support to do it will be important. But another thing that I'm seeing an interesting model is I've got a lot of areas where my local community based providers are partnering with municipalities, municipalities are able to kind of support the business model, and the local broadband company is able to then come in and basically provide the service. So we think we need to think creatively about what kind of partnerships can you create in a public private environment that will actually get the job done. And I think getting people to be open to those business models is going to be important.
If I could add to that, Senator, first of all, thank you for your question, because it cuts right to the heart of what we're here what the FCC is working on what Congress has been working on, to achieve, which is 100% connectivity for all of our communities across the country. And the connectivity gaps that you referenced that we're seeing today, I think are reflective of a few major policy deficiencies, not deficiencies in companies not not wanting to actually deliver broadband but because there are underlying systemic policy issues. Let me just point to three. First is incremental ism. You know, the fact is that we're constantly redefining in midstream through programs. What is unserved is at four 110 125. Three. And as a result, we're never really being able to as efficiently reach those who still have no service. A second is funding. We've talked about this, we need to ensure that that the recognition that delivering broadband is an extremely expensive proposition in our most remote and rural communities. And so is significant money, amount of money is required to get the job done. Well, let's meet that challenge. And let's do it today. And the third and Steve barrier we've talked about this is the indispensable input that mapping and funded mapping would deliver to ensure that we are spending these resources with the accuracy that's required to reach the truly unserved not where broadband currently is going, but rather To know where it is not going, if we can solve that problem and it is in your hands to be able to do that through appropriations, I think we will be much further towards our goal of 100%. Connect.
Thank you. Thank you, Mr. salters. So there's your capital and then Senator Lee.
Thank you, Mister. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Am I okay, I'm good. Thank you. Thank you again, Mr. Chairman. And and the ranking member, just briefly, being from West Virginia. During this COVID experience. We've heard I've heard anecdotally from a guy and glendenning who lost his landline for 27 days. He has no availability for connectivity. So the landline really is his only emergency. I've heard from a gentleman whose daughter he's Waverly she has to drive 10 to 15 miles to get the connectivity to continue her education at West Virginia University remotely. On distance learning, and we have these stories all across the country. I think Mr. Kimmelman points out in his, in his statement that West Virginia has taken some CDBG money and devoted that to our west virginia broadband council to really have a good assessment of what we really have. Because as I've studied this, sometimes I think the reason we're not getting it deployed to where we are is because we're not really sure where we were what we really have, aside from the mapping issue, where we have where the resources are, who the people are, that are interested in really deploying this, so I want to go to miss Bloomfield first, because I don't want to rehash a lot of the questions. But one of the things that you said in your opening statement, and something I've concerned about deeply is we have USDA, we have SC FCC, we have commerce, and we have other dollars coming in from other areas, providers and everything. I think the worst thing we can do is waste money here. And and I think that's what's happened in a lot of cases. And so those are Serve an underserved areas are still unserved and underserved. You have a program, I think you call it the forever connected broadband, is that aimed at that particular problem?
It's my aspirational desire that we actually, that we actually get that coordination, because you do have, you know, funding is limited, and you got to use it wisely. And I look at things that USDA is doing, and how do we coordinate that, you know, through our us with what the FCC is doing? The nice thing is, I think you're seeing more critical conversations there. But then how do they loop in if West Virginia has their own initiative? How do they become part of that? How do we make sure for example, that under our doff that if anybody has gotten West Virginia money that that not get them kicked out of eligibility, I think we've got to make sure that we have a coordinated approach. And that is really where I think Congress will take a very key role in in making sure that all of these key agencies are talking, sharing information, sharing challenge processes, and coordinating where those dollars go so we can use them better.
Another thing that when I was talking to one of our main providers several years ago, I said, What is it really going to take? And he says, well, Shelly, it's going to take time and money. Yeah. Well, we're talking about money here. Let's talk about timelines. I mean, when we see what I mean, I think this COVID one of the lessons learned is this connectivity issue. It's it's just been incredible the telehealth expansions and the way people like it, they like to have the telehealth appointments and it provides much more accessibility. Where do each of you think timeline wise we're gonna see is having these conversations and have conversations about maybe over exposure to internet or things? overbilled? Mr. Barry, do you have a three years five years, one year six
Yeah. Thank you. I you know that the issue is predictable availability of assured funding. And I think you do that I mean, we could spend a trillion dollars probably building out broadband in the United States. But you can't do that all in one year. You have the you have to have the equipment, put fiber in the ground, it takes time. It takes permitting that, you know, if we had a $50 billion USF program after you do a contribution reform, and you knew that that was going to come through every year, and you had maps that were accurate, and you had terrain factors, like in West Virginia, it's, you know, a beautiful state. I mean, I was over in Davis, West Virginia a couple years ago, and the mayor carried three phones because he didn't have coverage. So it's it's a great place to live work and work and and enjoy the mountains. But it's a very expensive place to build. And but I think if you had that, then the West Virginia could in fact, get access to the funds that it's so desperately needs. For broadband and so can the rest of the United States. And we really have to get serious about reforming the USF contribution factor and giving some real dollars long term predictable dollars to that fund
then after five years,
well, let me I think that the the only way to actually sufficiently and accurately answer that question is to understand that it is fundamentally a policy question. Our broadband providers are ready to go to work to to to not not only deploy more broadband but get more customers and close that digital divide of the last one or 2%. Timing is a question of what the political will to actually put the resources that will be required to have a permanent fixed universal service. And it also equally it will be accelerated if we're ready to have the political will fire up that weed whacker and make sure that we can streamline permitting, make sure that federal lands permitting is available In level the playing field when it comes to things like pole attachment rates, were co ops in electric co ops in municipal chargers or triple, quadruple more than rates of other broadband providers. These are all steps we can
take. My time is up.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. And thank you so much for campus. Oh, Senator Lee.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Speaker, I'd like to stop start with you. And I want to talk about firing up that weed whacker. I like the idea a lot. I live in a state in Utah, where two thirds of the land is owned by the federal government is a result of that somewhat unique dynamic, it creates unique challenges for us. You know, anytime we have to cross federal land, or use a right of way, we continue to experience very significant project delays, sometimes very lengthy project delays that are tied to federal mandates and regulations and bureaucracy. We've heard a lot of discussion today as to why we need more federal funding. And I, I think that should certainly be up for debate, we ought to have that conversation. And I don't think that's the only conversation we need to have. And I think in the case of Utah and many other Western States, where there is a disproportionate amount of federal land as a percentage of our landmines, we're reminded of the fact that we can't solely spend our way out of the problem. There are other things we need to look at. Now, mobile now had some good provisions to help streamline deployment efforts on federal land. But there are still a lot of significant problems that I think we need to address. What in your view should Congress do to streamline the agency permitting process for broadband deployment on federal language shots?
Well, first and foremost, I think the recognition that this is a profound and festering problem I I've heard stories from providers in Utah and beyond in other states have not having to wait two days and months to get permitting to actually provide access to unserved community, but measured in months, sometimes even years to to suffer through those burdensome and illogical permitting problems, your initiatives through mobile now other congressional initiatives to actually do whatever we can to streamline federal permitting to ensure that it is actually a process that can be coordinated tightly and in real time across agencies that have varying responsibilities and federal lands. And to make sure that that is both prioritized from a policy perspective. But it's embedded into this principle. And you said it exactly right, Senator, that it is not money alone, it's actually going to deliver the promise of full universal connectivity. Our nation is going to be smart policies to compress the time it takes and the burdens that are imposed on our providers to actually deliver that. And that starts with federal lands, streamlining permitting processes.
I assume you'd agree with me that the biggest disparity one of the biggest single disparities you can see in this country is the distinction between rural and non rural America. Right in terms of access. Yes. And would you also agree with me that in western states like mine, the distinction between rural and non rural, is heavily influenced by if not almost synonymous with federal land issues. In other words, rural communities throughout my state are awash in in federal land. And so oddly enough, in those areas where we need broadband access the most, it can be the most difficult to deploy in those areas, precisely because there's a mountain Byzantine labyrinth of federal regulations that they have to go through, in addition to the NEPA process, which can take many many years and that could do more to Close this divide than almost anything we could spend money on coordinate.
I agree. Another way of putting it is that the broadband providers more easily can extend broadband and dig trenches right through mountains, then conquer the more severe mountains of federal bureaucracy on our on our federal lands to actually deploy.
can we better meet the future needs
as far as spectrum in our country by doing a careful review of federal spectrum allocations?
Yes, sir. And I'm glad you raised that because wireless runs on the spectrum availability, we really do need to do a serious, deep dive on what are the spectrum allocations within the federal users in the United States, and then make some of that available for wireless use commercial auction, license views and that's the only way we're going to get to that next level of in the 5g world is if you get a mix of low mid and high band spectrum, and we do it sooner rather than later. Good example is the one that I just talked about was the the Navajo Nation worked with one of our carriers. With this unusual opportunity to get an sta, we actually doubled the speed and they actually doubled the usage and the capacity because we had more spectrum. If we can't get there, then we're not going to see the promise of gigabit wireless for a long time. And I'm very thankful that we got the C band coming up. We got CBR S is going to start here in June. And we hope that additional spectrum will be made available as we move down the road. So but thank you for the question. It's important.
If you could do that with the Navajo Nation. Imagine what we could do if we had the cooperation of federal agencies including the Department of Defense in conducting an inventory and widespread assessment. Have a spectrum that is in federal hands. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I see my time has expired.
As the acting Chairman, I just want to say senator Lee's points are right on with regard to cooperation involving the federal government to help us. Senator Baldwin.
Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman, and to our witnesses for providing such great testimony today. as others have observed today, we have a new day with regard to the amount of use and reliance on broadband high speed broadband in particular. And while this committee has spent a lot of time talking about the need for broadband access throughout the United States, the COVID-19 crisis has laid bare the reality of how needed it is. We've used broadband to work, telework to tele learn, to access medical care, to connect with government services to stay in touch with friends and family and in Wisconsin, in our most recent elections to order absentee ballots and try to upload photo IDs. And so, I this, this crisis in my mind may permanently shift more of our everyday lives to into these modes of communication, work, learning, etc. I wanted to follow up on some of the questions and testimony that was provided earlier. I wanted to start with you, Miss Bloomfield about The increasing importance of upload speeds, you talked about the fact that we usually look at download speeds. But if you might just talk a little bit about what you've seen change in the last couple of months in terms of usage of networks. And you know what, what that involves, specifically for telehealth, tele learning telework.
So it's not lost on me that we are having this hearing using broadband connectivity as well. Right. So here we are talking about broadband and many of you on the committee are actually using broadband to connect. And that's exactly that two way communication that we're seeing really a an explosion of, as we've talked about, you know, we we talked about what are the speeds what is the right speed, but one of the things that we are seeing that I think is most interesting is that two way that we are We are seeing people needing to upload as quickly as they're needing to download to be able to do all of those WebEx meetings and zoom conferences and all of the different two way communication tools that we're currently using, particularly as we think about teachers in the school room, you know, trying to teach to 30 children remotely using technology and for the children to be able to respond to upload their homework, to share their projects, all of that back and forth, if we're really going to be saying that our world may be a different world, and it may be a virtual connected world, that ability to have that two way communication that is, you know, relatively same time is going to be very important. We can't do what we're doing right now. If you're having jitter. If you're having you know that that time delay, it really makes the tool so much less effective. So I think, again, as we're looking at networks, and we're looking at the deployment of the networks, that robust nature is going to be more important than I think we had thought previously because we are seeing how people actually using this technology in the past people were very happy just downloading and and responding on emails. But we are seeing that as we use it as a tool for to stay connected. That robust nature is going to be really important.
Um, one of the things we talked a fair amount about during this hearing is the importance of mapping. As we said earlier, measure twice before you cut or map twice before you dig. One of the things I'm curious about is the information that we are getting from schools about which of the pupils have access to adequate broadband speeds and have broadband access and which of the pupils and their families don't? Are we used That data I at all to inform our mapping projects, is it would it be a good idea to do so?
Senator, let me address that because I think you've hit something that we haven't thought a whole lot about previously. We have a couple of carriers that provided connectivity to the schools that did not have a Wi Fi my Wi Fi, you know, broadband connection sufficient to do, you know, Virtual Education. And then the school shut down. And then they came to the teachers came and said, Listen, we we have 150 some students that has an have no access at home. Well, our carrier didn't know that until the school principal came and said, we know who they are and we know where they are. And guess what we went to work. That carrier started providing iPads that were connected to a Wi Fi and Wi Fi. They put the facilities in the school buses and drove school buses to the neighborhood. where some of these children lived and left the school bus there so that they can have connectivity? You've hit on something that I don't think we really, you know, utilize the data and information that we have in the schools have because it's never been a need to share with, with with carriers. And, and I think I think we can do a lot better job with that information moving forward. And that's something that we, we have to include in our maps. The other thing I'd address Shirley's is concept that people are working for home. And that's why we kept pushing and continue to push the stay connected voucher, because it used to be you would do that at work, and now you're doing it at home and you're having to pay for it. And the consumer is going to be in a tough bind. As we move down this road, the longer we stay in virtual connection with our offices. So we hope that you would consider Looking at the voucher program is complimentary to the Kramer clover char bill.
On behalf of the chairman, I'm going to recognize myself and there's been a lot of discussion of rural needs rural states. There's rural and then there's my state, the great state of Alaska. So I'm going to focus a little bit on these issues. I do appreciate Senator clover char. And Senator Udall highlighting the needs of Native Americans, Alaskan Natives. That's almost 20% of my state's population. And I do want to emphasize, Alaska Natives, whether members of tribes, Alaskan Native corporations, or both, are just as in need of support from the federal government as Native Americans in places like New Mexico and other states. And more to the point on something that occurred over the recess, and is really burning me up as a US Senator, continued personal attacks on the Assistant Secretary of Interior for Indian Affairs, and Alaska Native woman of impeccable integrity,
who's doing an amazing job
by senior democratic senators are shameful, unacceptable and need to stop. And I hope all of my colleagues, listen to that. And take heed. But I'm digressing here on an issue of importance. Let me ask the panel's panelists. What else can Congress do for extreme rural states? Like mine?
Let me let me just jump right in there. Senator. I had the great opportunity to visit our member Alaska communication systems and One of the first trips I made a CEO at us telecom and I was able to understand the extraordinary complexity and challenge of delivering broadband to the broad communities, geographically that that Alaska proudly has. We believe that that and we would support providing additional funding to healthcare through the Rural Health Care Program, the FCC, we would
recognize that, that the need for the those funds is has outpaced the actual amounts of those funds. The same time I think we have to be very careful about not putting into place and implementing major reforms as we're struggling through getting our sea legs during this current debt. Very good point. We need to be we need to be cadence, but we also need to recognize that rural healthcare provision through that program, unique to Alaska is very important.
And as you know, now, a lot People are talking about rural health care. My state was actually the lead Innovator of that just for the needs of the populations in Alaska. We have over 200 communities that are not actually connected by roads. So this is imperative. I think the FCC Chairman, unfortunately, has failed to recognize how important this is. So we're gonna keep pressing that issue, but I appreciate your thoughts and ideas on that. Miss Bloomfield, can I ask you, and maybe if you also want to address my initial question, but in addition, I'm co sponsoring with Senator Klobuchar, the keeping critical connectors Act, which is more focused on smaller providers, which, of course in Alaska, we have a number of those. Can you talk to how you think that's going to be helpful and, again, for all the panelists, I'll just put this out there. The PPP program have the smaller telecom has been able to access access that in your experience, what are you hearing with regard to those issues? And again, I'll open it up for all the panelists to address any and all the comments that in questions I just asked, but why don't we start with you
know, Senator, that was out there was a lot in there. So I'm going to try to go really there's a lot in Alaska is unique. And that's one of the reasons why the FCC had done the Alaska plan to basically take a look and and make sure that they got the support that they need, because there, we appreciate it. And it was important, and I think it's time now to start thinking about what that next step is, because we know how quickly Time passes. So I think, you know, the folks in Alaska are led by a great state association, and they're thinking already proactively on that. So I think that's one piece. On the second piece, when you talk about the keep critical connections act, it's really important. It is the it is the piece that is going to allow these essential providers to continue to build and sustain and maintain their networks while people aren't able to afford to pay for the service. So I think it is a really important issue. initiative and we're very delighted that you're co sponsoring that.
Well, it has strong bipartisan support, as you've seen. So we're going to hopefully move that here in the Commerce Committee.
Absolutely. And on the rural health care, the leadership from Alaska has been critical. I will just share an anecdote that we offer a tele doc program, we provide health care insurance to 60,000 rural Americans through our programs. We have seen the increase in our Tella doc program 45% in March 55%. In April, the need is there. We just need to get some of those other pieces together, but you need the underlying broadband to make that connectivity work. And then we can work on licensing and all of the other bureaucracies that go along with that.
Great, thank you,
Senator. Thank you, Senator. We we have I think of five members including GCI as members of our association. Thank you for all your help all your your constant support and work on how do we serve an area's vast as your state it's unbelievable frustration with the FCC Chairman. I'll just say we share that occasionally. I
know you do.
But, but thank you. And you mentioned the cape KCC the keep Americans connected. We also we support the stay, which I think is complimentary support the stay connected voucher program. Because when you ask a customer a consumer, what do you want? They're going to say I want to pay my bill. If you ask a carrier, what do you want, I want to be able to keep my network running up and running. And just as the PPP program was conceived as a complimentary program to the SBA loan and loan forgiveness program, I think these two programs go hand in hand, it addresses the need to have the, you know, network up and running and fill those holes that of, quite frankly, it hurt a lot of small carriers right now. But it also addresses the issue that the consumer, the consumer gets, gets to make the decision, what is the most important connectivity in their household, and I think we do both things, because this is a severe crisis that we're going through in Alaska. God bless him out there. I've got a first cousin up there that it's it's tough right now.
It's tough challenges, but we'll get through it. We're tough, resilient state senator shots.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, for all of your testimony, and all of your good work.
I am struck
by the following dynamic. It seems to me that we're having the same conversation that we normally have about broadband and connectivity and telehealth. And now distance learning and the homework gap. And all of that is really important, but we're missing the plot. We're missing the fact that right now, kids can't learn. We're missing the fact that right now, teachers can't even teach because they lack connectivity in their homes. And so we need to think in terms of phasing this out and I am I take it back To no one on criticizing the FCC about mapping or the use of USF or whatever it is, but a lot of what's being contemplated today in in this hearing is at least medium term and a lot of it long term $16 billion over 10 years mapping reform USF reform. And we've got to move at the speed of the virus. And so I have one simple question. We are going to be contemplating the heroes act as it comes over from the House of Representatives. What is the one thing that we ought to do right away in the next piece of legislation, in order to connect people in whatever way is possible, and think of it as a band aid, whether it's Wi Fi hotspots, or, or or whatever we need to do. But we don't have the luxury of thinking about broadband infrastructure over the next six to 18 months or five to 10 years. We have to figure out how to connect kids right now. We have to figure out how to connect people who are eligible for telehealth under Medicare right now and so I'll start with Mr. Kimmelman and go down the line, what's the one thing we ought to do?
In the next bill?
Thank you, Senator shots, I think you're spot on. I think you need to put money immediately into expanding e rate and allow it to be you allow the schools to be used to serve adjacencies to expand Wi Fi availability. If we can't get the digging right away. If we can't build out the infrastructure right away, you should put a lot of money into that. But let's take full advantage of the spectrum and the facilities we have to share more broadly so that more kids and frankly communities can be connected.
Senator and I completely agree with you from the get go. We sent a letter to all of the commissioners at the FCC. Recently with seven associations came together and as Congress do exactly the same thing, which is a let's get significant funding immediately out the door to support those families, communities and enterprises are currently in need with respect to FCC related programs, we call on the FCC to establish immediately a lifeline like program that can be constituted as an emergency funding program. So we will have we'll be able to do an and run around all of the Byzantine rules and requirements and compliance obligations so that we can actually get money out the door quickly. With respect to lifeline. You know, at a minimum, such a new program should should also tweak the rules to support one fixed in one mobile broadband connection per household immediately. Similarly, with E rate, let's let's think more flexibly in an emergency program. that that would be able to direct, more assistance immediately too with with more flexibility and rules that would actually be able to deliver those dollars to keep principles, one, they have to be administrated in an easy way. And two, we have to have very low barriers. For folks, both both consumers and for providers for signing up for these programs, those have to go hand in hand. Thank you.
All right, I'm going to do three points, one, create an emergency Lifeline program to allow those folks who can't afford connectivity to stay connected to support the networks themselves through the critical connections act. And three, look at the DMV money that they just received $16 billion, and make sure that some of that money goes to tools and applications and broadband for schoolchildren.
And I would I would second that, I would say that first, like a good physician first you do no harm. I think the first thing you have to do is make sure these networks are up and running. The KCC program does that the stay connected voucher program takes care of the consumers to make sure that they continue to be connected. And then I think you have to do some time. triage on those programs that are there right now like the E VA program and the lifeline program that you can beef those up because you don't need 610 12 months in order to deliver solutions you need IE immediate relief. And then let's talk about how we do this in a much more methodical fashion as we move forward to get broadband connectivity to 100% of the United States.
Thank you very much.
Thanks, Senator Sullivan. And thank you all for being here. Thanks for your leadership. I want to pursue that line of questioning about Lifeline and era because I do think they are key to bridging and closing the digital divide and the homework gap that is ongoing right now. It's urgent and pressing we need to meet it. We need a bold plan and leadership and I am proud to have led a letter with 26 of my senate colleagues to congressional leadership calling for $1 billion right away for the lifeline program. Lifeline and other emergency broadband benefits ought to be at the core of a comprehensive plan. And I think we've been sort of marching around it. in normal times. Lifeline is underfunded during a pandemic. And when schools are shut down and businesses are shuttered, it is more essential than ever. And we ought to remind ourselves that after Hurricane Katrina, the FCC took sweeping action to keep those whose lives have been upended by disaster connected through the internet and within one month dedicated more than $200 million to fund connectivity efforts and aggressively opened up Lifeline and E Ray programs to new carriers And subscribers. I am thankful to FCC Chairman pi. He's made some useful changes to Lifeline knee rate in recent weeks. But by comparison, these changes are just baby steps in the right direction. So let me ask every one of you whether you have an estimate, let's talk dollars about how much should be devoted to Lifeline is $1 billion, the right amount would you recommend more or less?
Again, let's go down the line and ask for
Mr. Kalman since you're by remote to start with
you senator Blumenthal, it's a great initiative. If senator shots have given me more options. I would repair Lifeline right there with use of the existing wireless facilities. 1 million at least I think you could spend quite a bit more because the cost of speed broadband is so out of reach for so many people.
Thank you, Mr. Spider.
Let me let me say that without specifically saying what the melody is, I do think that we should think as well on program reforms so that these temporary emergency programs both for Lifeline and E rate can actually flow money as quickly as possible. We have a past is prologue we've seen that that can be done through the tele health emergency program, or dollars are actually reaching hospital systems to actually stand up telehealth initiatives. We could do the same with Lifeline in Iran, for example, extending the waivers or changes to era rules to include dollars to flow to actually allowing teachers and students their families to have access to funds for not just connectivity but for devices at home. With respect to lifeline. We could move very quickly to think about mechanisms to ensure that an Temporary emergency program would be extensible not just to traditional Lifeline eligible participants, but to gig workers to newly unemployed workers. So that the the scope of impact can actually be broader in this immediate moment. I agree that the the actual number, the dollar figure is going to not be in the millions. It will it will be in the billions, but we need to move quickly.
Well, I think that's a helpful answer, since you're talking about billions as Mr. Coleman is, as well as Bloomfield,
I I'd be loath to guess what the number is. But I think it's going to be significant. And I think that your initiative to be thinking about an emergency plan, because there are going to be some people who are newly Yellen unemployed, who will not be immediately eligible for the existing Lifeline program. So how do we capture those people whose lives have just been up ended and some of these are the same households that have students that need access. So I think it's going to be looking at the program in the long run, but in the short run, doing something where we can get that support out the door And I will say, you know, again, the keeping critical connections act will allow these small providers to maintain or increase the speeds to those consumers, that will actually be a complement to the lifeline subsidy.
Thank you. Senator, I totally agree you're on the right track. As I mentioned, we support the stay connected voucher program. That would be a compliment to the lifeline and the E Ray program. When you think about it, it goes directly to the consumer empowers the consumer, they make the decision. It could, it could cost depending on if you have two vouchers to each household, up to nine plus billion dollars. So there's a number for getting funds and much needed access to communications services. directly in the in the thing about it is the process is already established. The Care Act already has sent, you know, 1200 dollar checks to everyone and it goes down deeper. And more technology neutral than anything else is out there. It can be done immediately. And I think it'd be very complementary to your concept.
Thank you. I appreciate I appreciate all of your supporting this concept in real dollars because we have that job of making it happen. And we can all support the principles here, but the dollars really make the difference. And so thank you all for your support. Thanks, Mr. Chairman,
And, and thank you to all of our witnesses for participating today. The Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of having reliable high speed internet access throughout the country. It's a difficult time for Arizona's but having broadband access opens up many opportunities for more employees to work from home students to participate in distance learning for families to access telehealth for friends to keep in touch, and even for United States senators to participate in commerce. committee hearings remotely. Yet, according to the Department of Commerce, 28 million American households cannot access the internet from home. So expanding broadband for rural tribal and urban communities is critical for families in Arizona during this crisis and into the future. I was proud to support broadband provisions in the cares act, but we need to do more. The next relief package must continue to expand access for Arizona's looking forward, we need to make sure that we have a long term plan to invest in broadband infrastructure, ensure that we have an appropriate regulatory framework, develop better coverage maps and utilize federal resources efficiently. And I'm looking forward to working with all the stakeholders and my colleagues on this committee to address these issues. My first question is for Mr. Kimmelman. As you know, over 20 million Americans, including 12 million children lack reliable internet access, which is a necessity for Arizona students to get online learning during this crisis. I've heard amazing stories of communities in Arizona working together To gate these challenges for students, for example, two dozen school buses in Tucson Sunnyside Unified School District are parked in parking lots around the community. They provide Internet access for nearby students so that they can receive assignments and communicate with their teachers. I'm a co sponsor of Senate bill s 3738, which is a bill that requires the FCC to make the provision of Wi Fi access on buses eligible for a rate support. This bill addresses the homework gap by helping students who can't get the internet at home. My question for you is how else do you think we can support kids with their distance learning? And how can we support school districts that are utilizing innovative options during school closures?
Thank you, Senator cinema. Really appreciate your efforts here because the the access to Wi Fi on buses is critical triage right now in immediate crisis. And I hope I hope the Congress will move forward on that. I think from there, we need to make sure we're getting the infrastructure built as quickly as possible in unserved communities. Put shovels in the ground where you know you need fiber and get moving faster than what the FCC has been doing. We need to put the money into deployment. So supporting small companies, as Senator Klobuchar chars suggested, with Senator Kramer, and expanding Lifeline so that those who can't afford broadband where it exists, can at least have access to it and can take advantage of it. We need to get everyone on the network who can possibly be on the network so that you can provide health care services and expand telehealth so that you can make education work as distance learning the best you can. Those are a variety of initiatives that need to happen immediately, sir,
I appreciate it. My next question is for Mr. Berry and Mr. Kimmelman broadband is essential to ensure tribal communities across the country have the resources they need to preserve public health and repair economics. fall out. But seven and 10 residents on rural tribal lands remain without access. The Navajo Nation, as you know, has been disproportionately affected by the Coronavirus pandemic, we have over 100 confirmed deaths. I've heard from Navajo Nation leadership that internet access is essential to help them mitigate this crisis in their community. During my time in the Senate, I've worked hard to ensure that tribes in Arizona can utilize the gigahertz band for broadband services and I was glad to see that last month, the FCC agreed to let the Navajo Nation use unassigned spectrum to help increase access during the crisis. They've also received funding from the telehealth program in the cares act to provide home health care and remote monitoring services to patients who are isolated, including low income elderly and high risk patients. So could you discuss how the FCC and Congress should further support connectivity in Indian country during this crisis?
Thank you, senator and also thank you for your leadership on this issue. You've been a stalwart of support for everyone. Especially the Navajo Nation. As I mentioned earlier, we do have several companies that service Navajo territories and and, and cooperate and are in business with the Navajo Nation itself. And it's extraordinary with increase of access to spectrum and through the SDKs that the FCC provided. Our carriers are I mean, 54 sites in one week were able to be turned up and provide quality broadband capability and they're working more efficiently and trying to find other ways to enhance this sta concept. I think we need to look at disaggregation and partitioning of the spectrum that's currently out there in the rural areas that may not be fully utilized by Kara that my may actually own it, or it could be leased some of the rules that the FCC especially on partition and disaggregation are complicated. And a carrier that may wish to lease or provide spectrum to another provider may not be able to do so without extraordinary exceptions at the FCC. So all those things I think we need to explore. And and I like the idea of having special attention given to Native Americans, not only at the FCC, but in the legislative packages that are going around. That's one of the reasons why we do support the stay connected voucher because it will go directly to the consumer. There may be service out there that they can't afford, and hopefully they can do that. But, you know, your issue it goes deeper than just broadband connectivity, as you know, many of those in the Navajo nation that got that access to broadband, their homes don't even have running water. So when they say wash your hands, wash your hands. You just kind of your heart just has to Have Phil for those individuals that are lacking more than broadband. So thank you for the question.
Can I just to very briefly extend that answer senator cinema, it's Jonathan Salter, you know. And again, thank you for your leadership. One part of the solution set though is just as the FCC and other federal agencies in this Congress is trying to move forward to streamline and speed up deployment and removing obstacles for doing so that state, local and tribal leaders and governments should be encouraged to do the same. Speeding up permitting, deployment barriers, speeding up every possible effort, change of control requirements, that do get in the way to have carriers that want to actually deliver broadband as quickly as as they're able. We're seeing that right now with a Navajo Nation having streamlined a set of permitting railroad crossing. In other rights of way issues and as a result, one provider frontiers moving rapidly to deploy additional broadband to that community.
Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Senator cinema. And I just want to thank the witnesses. Mr. Berry, your comment on that final point, although it's not really broadband I couldn't agree more with my state has over 30 communities where people, American citizens, some of the most patriotic Americans in the country, because Alaska Natives like lower 48 Indians serve at higher levels in the US military than any other ethnic group in the country. very patriotic. But over 30 communities in my state don't have running water, hard to tell people to wash your hands frequently when they don't have running water in their communities. So I hope we can get through that and again, that should be tribal Alaska Native shareholders and tribes are both become an issue, which I think is ridiculous. It's become an issue. Again, I hope some of my Democratic colleagues will cease and desist in that regard. But it's all. It's all help that's going to be needed. I want to thank again, the witnesses, I think two important conclusions here. This pandemic has heightened the need even more for the need for broadband, but I think especially in rural areas, extreme rural areas, tribal areas, Native communities, and I also believe that you see from this very interested group of senators, so much participation, that there is broad bipartisan support to get this done. So I think that's positive. I want to thank all four of you for your fine testimony and good answers to the questions the hearing record will remain open for two weeks. During this time, senators are asked to submit any questions for the record. Upon receipt. The witnesses are requested to submit their written answers respectfully to the committee as soon as they can, but by no later than Wednesday, June 8 2020. Again, I want to thank the witnesses for appearing today. This hearing is now adjourned. Thank you