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USTelecom CEO Testifies House E&C Broadband Infrastructure Hearing

01.30.2018

Below is USTelecom Chairman and CEO Jonathan Spalter’s oral testimony as prepared for delivery before the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Communications & Technology hearing: “Closing the Digital Divide: Broadband Infrastructure Solutions” on January 30, 2018:

USTelecom Chairman and CEO Jonathan Spalter
Oral Testimony As Prepared For Delivery
House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Communications & Technology

Closing the Digital Divide: Broadband Infrastructure Solutions
January 30, 2018

Chairman Blackburn, Ranking Member Doyle and other distinguished subcommittee members, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you.  I am Jonathan Spalter, President and CEO of USTelecom representing our nations broadband providers – large and small, urban and rural – and everything in between.

All of our members are deeply committed to and on the front lines of the massive effort underway to connect all Americans to the opportunities and possibilities of broadband.   

So we greatly appreciate this subcommittee’s leadership and the growing momentum throughout Congress…and on both sides of the aisle…to aid this effort.

In a few short hours, the president will deliver his State of the Union address.  According to the pundits, topics that draw consensus will be few and far between. Infrastructure is one of those rare issues with a powerful centrifugal force—pulling us all together.  

From the administration’s statements and actions…to Senator Schumer’s blueprint…to the 26 bills now making their way through this committee, Washington has caught up to the connected times and not a moment too soon…acknowledging the pivotal role of information infrastructure—the 1s and 0s of broadband networks—to our nation.

Since the earliest days of the internet—as we sought to rise above the honk and screech of dial-up service—expanding and upgrading the nation’s broadband networks has been largely a private sector endeavor.  

America’s broadband providers have invested more than $1.6 trillion over the last 2 decades building out U.S. digital infrastructure.  That’s more than our nation spent in public dollars to put a man on the moon and build the interstate highway system—combined.

So why must we continue to commit public funds to the cause?

Because we risk leaving millions of U.S. households behind if we do not. 

We know the private investment model works well in reasonably populous areas.  But the business case breaks down when the average $27,000 cost per mile of laying fiber not to mention the network maintenance and upgrades that are constantly required, must be spread across only a handful of users.

Broadband companies want to connect everyone from our most populated urban areas to the most remote, rural communities. But they need a committed partner in these final unserved, high-cost areas.  And, that partner should be all of us – including government.  

So what specifically does that mean?

• First - New and direct public funding is needed to supplement private investment in connecting the final frontier.

• Second - Care must be taken to ensure broadband funding is not merely an ‘option’ on a vast spending menu, but has its own specific allocation, a position now being championed by the bipartisan co-chairs of the Rural Broadband Caucus. 

• Third - Public dollars should prioritize connecting unserved areas using proven mechanisms—chief among them the Universal Service Fund—to move quickly and with accountability while minimizing administrative costs to U.S. taxpayers. 

• Fourth, connectivity also should be factored into physical infrastructure projects. Adding more of our bridges and roads to broadband connectivity, makes them smarter, safer, more cost-effective and extends their useful life.

• Last, a stable, streamlined regulatory environment can accelerate and extend the impact of both public and private dollars. Earlier this monththe president signed an executive order to expedite federal permitting, so broadband companies can build infrastructure in rural areas faster. Continuing these efforts reduces deployment costs—stretching limited resources further.

When it comes to broadband, this grand aspiration of a truly connected nation is within striking distance.  Working together, we have the means and the opportunity to relegate this challenge to the history books.  All that remains is a question of will.  For that reason, I greatly appreciate the subcommittee’s interest today and your ongoing leadership.  The nation’s broadband providers stand ready to link arms with the nation’s policy leaders—and anyone else who wants to step up—to finish the job.