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House Republicans Call for Digital Divide Hearing

Looking to get in front of an issue with bipartisan support, the ranking Republicans on the House Energy & Commerce Committee have called on the Democratic chairs of the Energy & Commerce Committee and Communications Subcommittee to hold a hearing on closing the digital divide. 

Doing the asking were E&C ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Communications Subcommittee ranking member Bob Latta (R-Ohio). 

That came in a letter Thursday (June 4) to Committee chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) and Subcommittee chairman Mike Doyle (D-Pa.). 

"The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the need for connectivity, as millions of Americans transition to working remotely," the Republicans wrote. "Children need broadband to be able to do their schoolwork from home. Some Americans who do not have access to reliable broadband connections travel to the nearest parking lot to be able to connect to the Internet. It is our duty to examine these issues and work in a bipartisan manner to close the digital divide."

They pointed to a hearing the subcommittee had held on the issue earlier this year, but said given the pandemic, it is time to look at the implications for the millions who did not have access to broadband, including reducing "regulatory barriers." 

The FCC has certainly been short-cutting some of the normal regulatory routes to broadband deployment during the pandemic, loosening or waiving rules to boost access for low income residents and those on tribal lands, among others. 

Walden and Latta pointed out that ISPs had stepped up to offer free or reduced service, kept providing service to those unable to pay and increased data allowances, as well as donating devices to help kids do their homework. 

They were certainly preaching to the choir about the need for closing the digital divide, which has been a focus on Democrats as well as Republicans, but may have lost them on the need for reducing regulations to get there.  

The Republicans called for a hearing ASAP. A spokesperson for committee Democrats was unavailable for comment on the letter.