A Tale of Two Broadband Policies

Below are USTelecom CEO Jonathan Spalter’s remarks delivered to the USTelecom Connectivity Forum on April 11, 2024:

Good morning. I’m Jonathan Spalter, and I’m proud to be here with our team at USTelecom. Welcome to our connectivity forum. We have a lot to talk about today…and even more to do in the coming weeks and months to make sure public policy is an accelerator and not a roadblock to innovation, connectivity and all the progress they make possible for our country.

So, thanks to everyone joining this dialogue, both here in the room and across the country (thanks to the power and promise of broadband). A special shout-out also to our USTelecom members here with us today in Washington.

Our nation’s connectivity project is at a real inflection point. The stakes are huge. We’ve got to get it right. Success is tantalizing close. But from a policy perspective, we’re receiving some very mixed and conflicting signals.

On the one hand, we hear from the White House and Congress that they are all in on internet for all. Yet we are a handful of weeks away from running out of funds for the Affordable Connectivity Program, which helps more than one in six households get and stay connected.

This is hardly the only contradiction. USTelecom is in the courts…working alongside a long list of partners, including the FCC…pushing back on those who say the Universal Service program…the idea of connecting those in need…is unconstitutional. We’re standing together to say, ‘this is wrong.’ Yet at the same time, we are seeing renewed attempts at government micromanagement of the internet, which only serve to undermine our collective efforts to get everyone connected. I refuse to believe our best innovation policies are carbon-dated throwbacks to the days when Benny Goodman and Bing Crosby topped the charts and dinosaurs roamed the earth.

In the good news column: We have glimmers of consensus emerging on Capitol Hill…on permitting reform…on online privacy…and on finally…finally…getting Big Tech to join the rest of us to help fund connectivity for low-income and hard to reach families via the USF program and, we hope, ACP.

On the discouraging side: Many of these critical connectivity issues are mired in bureaucratic buffering and political posturing. Broadband providers are chomping at the bit to get fiber in the ground to connect the unconnected, yet too often it’s our own government standing in the way.

We’re going to hear from providers that serve Wyoming and Utah. In Wyoming, it can take up to 36 months to get a Bureau of Land Management permit for broadband deployment. In Utah, one provider waited almost three years for permission to repair an existing line. Typically, this is the kind of slow roll you see when you want to discourage behavior, not when it is the stated goal of your country to connect everyone.

The list goes on. The FCC has been waiting over a year on Congress for spectrum auction authority. Other countries, like China, are lapping us. We need to outcompete them on quantum computing… AI…setting global standards for 6G…and winning the new space race. We can’t do that if we’re stuck in the starting gate. It can take two years to get permission to launch a satellite here. In China, it’s about four months.

The good news? These are solvable problems. The bad news? We have yet to summon the will and the unity to do so.

On cybersecurity, we need to double down on, not undermine, the public-private partnership model we know works. Experts in government and private industry are working shoulder to shoulder to outwit and outpace highly organized efforts to infiltrate our nation’s critical infrastructure. Yet now we’re hearing calls to move backward to yet another rigid, old-school regulatory approach and mindset…one that only applies to the connectivity sector. This would lead to unworkable and duplicative requirements that would swallow precious time and resources like a giant sandworm from Dune.

It is the tale of two broadband policies. And we need to make a choice. And, I’m not talking Republican or Democrat, urban or rural. I mean forward or backward…progress or inertia.

Do we want to be the global connectivity leader and do the real, practical work and create the right incentives to get us there or are we going to repeatedly undermine progress by pumping the brakes?

It took a total eclipse of the sun to bring this country together, focused in the same direction. We need to find a common, consistent, and constructive vision when it comes to the policies shaping the defining innovation of our lifetimes—broadband connectivity.

What gets us closer to connecting everyone… keeping our infrastructure safe… stoking investment…and firing up our competitive engines? The answers to these are within reach. We must meet this moment.


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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.ustelecom.org/a-tale-of-two-broadband-policies/