NATE UNITE 2018
Having just received the inaugural Legislative and Regulatory Champion of the Year Award at NATE UNITE 2018 on Wednesday, Congressman (her preferred designation of her title) Marsha Blackburn, Chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Communications & Technology, addressed the issues facing the telecom infrastructure industry and Washington’s efforts to see them expedited.
“Broadband has long been a priority of mine, and here’s why,” Blackburn said. “It represents more than just the fiber in the ground or the towers in the air. Broadband brings with it the promise of better education, better healthcare, sustainable economic development, and an increased quality of life. It connects people in times of crisis, and it ensures our first responders have the tools they need when responding to emergencies.”
Blackburn listed three guiding principles “it would behoove us to follow”:
1) Any funds for broadband in an infrastructure package should go to unserved areas first.
2) The federal government should not be picking winners and losers in the marketplace. Any federal support for broadband infrastructure should be competitively and technologically neutral. If we adhere to these principles, I am confident we can avoid the pitfalls of waste, fraud and inefficiency that marred the previous administration’s efforts on broadband infrastructure.
3) Congress should be mindful of the significant amounts of private capital spent to support broadband deployment.
It was the FCC’s decision in 2015 to reclassify the competitive broadband marketplace, according to Blackburn, under Title 2 of the Communications Act, that made it “an outdated relic of the 1930’s monopoly era” and put the telecom sector in decline.
Current FCC policies have met with her approval, however. “I want to reiterate our support for Chairman Pai,” Blackburn said, “who corrected this ill-conceived policy and returned us to the light-touch regulatory approach that allowed the digital economy to flourish.”
She cited the “light-touch approach” as being the bedrock of communications policy since the Clinton administration and stressed the importance of how enhancing economic growth through telecommunications, should remain a bipartisan effort. Blackburn noted the recently signed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is a boon for large companies and smaller broadband providers alike, especially those deploying broadband to unserved rural communities nationwide.
“I still have constituents who don’t even have access to the internet,” Blackburn said. “They’re driving 30 minutes to the nearest McDonalds or library just so that the kids can connect to a WiFi network and get their homework done. That’s simply not acceptable. You can’t have a 21st century economy with a 20th century internet. Broadband expansion can’t just be about cities, 5G, or fiber.”
As Chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Communications & Technology, she said she has kept her bipartisan committee members busy by asking them to bring her their best ideas for a broadband infrastructure package. “We had a hearing at the end of January – and we discussed 25 pieces of legislation,” she said.
The ideas she got back, run the gamut from the poor quality of the FCC’s broadband maps to streamlining the permitting process, to modernizing our laws to address tower siting and federal rights-of-ways. “We’ll be moving to mark those bills up in full committee soon, and hopefully get as many of them to the floor as possible,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn expressed support of “dig once” programs and expediting the historical review process. She said she was working closely with the White House on broadband expansion and cited two recently signed bills relating to rural connectivity and putting those standards on par with those in more urban areas.
In Tennessee, Blackburn said Governor Haslam recently announced $10,000,000 in grants through the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act with the grantees providing another $10,000,000 in matching funds. “It’s important that people all over the country can connect to a network and place calls, especially when they’re in times of crisis,” she said.
Blackburn applauded bipartisan efforts to complete the AIRWAVES Act, creating a competitive bidding process to grant priority access license for the use of specific bands of spectrum.
“I really want to thank all of you for what you do. So many people don’t understand how critical and crucial of a role the tower technicians and small business owners play in our economy. Not to mention how dangerous it is to climb these enormous towers,” she said. “I encourage you to reach out to my office if you have input on the deployment issues that affect your business. I do my best to be active and engaged, and I hope you’ll take me up on that.”
To see her full address given exclusively to Inside Towers click here.
By Jim Fryer, Managing Editor, Inside Towers
February 23, 2018