Blackburn convenes hearing on efforts to remove barriers to nationwide broadband deployment

Rural America has fallen behind urban areas with the rollout of broadband service, spurring U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) to lead a congressional hearing this week that explored ways to remove obstacles at the federal level that limit private sector investment in broadband infrastructure.

Blackburn, the chairwoman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, said a lack of broadband access, in rural areas in particular, has affected constituents of numerous members of the subcommittee.

“We must cut through the red tape by streamlining permitting processes and implement accurate availability data in order to solve the broadband dilemma,” Blackburn said.

The subcommittee evaluated a discussion draft of legislation that would create an inventory of federal assets which could be used for installing or attaching broadband infrastructure, require all landholding agencies to use common lease templates for wireless broadband attachments, and streamline processes for applications within the Interior Department and the Forest Service for communication facilities location applications.

“We are all tired of hearing stories about parents driving their children to the local McDonald’s for internet access in order to finish homework assignments,” Blackburn said. “We owe them better, period. The 5G revolution is upon us and we should modernize our laws to address issues such as tower siting and federal rights of ways, which are tying the hands of our private sector.”

Another discussion draft of legislation would mandate the inclusion of broadband conduit in the construction of certain highway projects that receive federal funding.

“In addition to reducing barriers to deployment, we must accurately collect and aggregate data to update the National Broadband Map,” Blackburn said. “The map has not been updated since June 2014 when (Broadband Technology Opportunities Program) funding ceased. It is imperative that we fix the map, but doing so is a fool’s errand without precise data. This will ensure that private and federal investments are targeted at unserved areas.”

Unleashing broadband, Blackburn said, would create opportunities for millions of Americans economically and with education and health care.

“A recent Accenture report notes that smart cities growth could result in a $500 billion impact on GDP over 10 years,” Blackburn concluded. “People want broadband as much as new roads. Republicans and Democrats are eager to work together to solve this challenge.”

Joanne Hovis, the president of CTC Technology and Energy, testified that the private sector stands to benefit in multiple ways from working with state and local governments “as partners, as users of the networks to market their goods and services in the rapidly emerging information-based global economy, and as contributors to the next generation of innovations.”