The Senate Communications Subcommittee looked at the impact of the internet of things on rural America in a hearing Tuesday (Nov. 7), with both sides of the aisle agreeing that the FCC needed better data on where broadband is and isn't deployed, given that connectivity is key to IoT deployment.
Subcommittee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said it was vital that the FCC's Universal Service Fund provides "adequate and predictable support" for broadband connectivity and collects reliable data before making new funding decisions, including on the Connect America Fund II subsidies.
Ranking member Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) pointed to the rural broadband gap as a main sticking point, saying that one in four rural residents still don't have access to 25 Mbps upstream/ 3 Mbps downstream broadband (the FCC's definition of high speed)--one hearing witness put that number at more like one in three "reliable, high-speed access."
Schatz, a member of the internet of things working group, agreed that accurate data on broadband availability was crucial, pointed to issues with FCC data collection and said that had to change and that the commission needed to establish a consistent methodology for data collection.
The FCC has recently sought comment on how they collect that broadband data and how they can get better data. In fact, Democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has launched her own online collection point for input on where broadband isn't.
Schatz suggested at the hearing that the FCC was proposing to redefine high speed down to 10 Mbps downstream, 1 mbps up, though FCC chairman Ajit Pai has said that is not the proposal, though the FCC has asked whether the definition should be finessed with other factors, and whether wireless broadband should have the same speed threshold.
The hearing raised some of the same issues as in a June House Communications Subcommittee hearing on broadband mapping and definitions.
Schatz gave a shout out to the Rural Wireless Access Act from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), which he called a step in the right direction. "We have to know where the digital divide is to take steps to close it," he said.
Also getting a shout-out at the hearing was the SPEED Act, which would speed broadband infrastructure deployment.
Schatz said he supported public-private partnerships, but also said it would take direct government spending to build out physical infrastructure "where the private sector won't."
In addition to connectivity, adoption is key, said Angela Siefer, director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.
She said she would like to say there was a federal broadband adoption program, but there isn't. "We need a federal strategy that addresses infrastructure, and that addresses adoption, and we have to do it together," she said. She said the FCC data is not accurate, which is a 'huge problem."
Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) said she was eager to see the benefits of IoT, but that given her the many rural areas of her state she is worried about the "last mile" issue. She put a plug in for Rosenworcel's e-mail address, email@example.com, where folks can report lack of access. She encouraged her constituencies to weigh in, saying it was time to crowdsource the information rather than wait around for more inaccurate census block information.
Hassan has introduced the Airwaves Act to help get more funding for rural broadband and free up more spectrum as well.
Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.
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