WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman G. K. Butterfield (NC-01) addressed a capacity crowd of policymakers, advocates, and industry leaders at the Minority Media and Telecom Council’s (MMTC) 11th Annual Access to Capital and Telecom Policy Conference where he underscored the need for broadband access in rural communities and among economically disadvantaged populations across the country. Butterfield represents one of the poorest congressional districts, and serves as a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over telecommunications issues. Butterfield has been a longtime proponent of closing the digital divide among underserved communities across the United States.
Butterfield said, “Less densely populated, economically depressed areas like much of my District are no less in need of access to quality broadband and are certainly no less deserving…With commerce, education, and communication being just a few of the everyday tasks that have largely moved online, those who cannot access broadband become further disenfranchised and unprepared for achieving a successful and productive life.”
MMTC is one of the leading organizations dedicated to promoting equal opportunity in the mass media, telecommunications and broadband industries, and closing the digital divide of those who have access to technology and those who do not.
Butterfield’s full remarks follow.
Despite being from different political parties, there is one thing that my former colleague Cliff Stearns and I certainly agree on: in today’s world, people who don’t have access to technology or people who don’t utilize the technology they can access will be left by the wayside to find their own way.
Having ready access to technology and possessing the skills needed to make the most of that technology is an imperative of the 21st century.
Some 95% of households in the United States have access to broadband while 5% of households do not. As you might imagine, many of those un-served or underserved areas are in southern or rural areas like my Congressional District in eastern North Carolina.
With commerce, education, and communication being just a few of the everyday tasks that have largely moved online, those who cannot access broadband become further disenfranchised and unprepared for achieving a successful and productive life.
Congress took note of the growing digital divide between rural and urban areas and established the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and the Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) in an effort to expand high speed internet access to nearly every American home. Efforts were focused on connecting the unconnected first so that students, teachers, job-seekers, and others like those in my Congressional District have the opportunity to learn and work on equal footing.
Less densely populated, economically depressed areas like much of my District are no less in need of access to quality broadband and are certainly no less deserving. The BTOP and BIP programs have proved their great benefits and continue to demonstrate how important they are to the strength and viability of American businesses. President Obama plans to build on the success of those programs.
The president recently announced his ConnectED initiative that would connect 99 percent of America’s students to high speed broadband in five years through improving access at schools and libraries across our country. The plan provides for increased training for teachers in the use of technology in the classroom.
And, it also calls on school districts to consider the benefits of providing students, beginning as early as kindergarten, with individual laptop computers, tablets, or other high-tech devices that can store nearly unlimited numbers of textbooks, school work, and other educational materials for use in the classroom. If we are to have a generation of young people ready to compete with the rest of the world.
Some of this is already happening. In North Carolina, a non-profit called MCNC has built 2,600 miles of fiber connecting key community anchor institutions like school districts, colleges and universities, hospitals, and libraries through its North Carolina Research and Education network (NCREN).
Today, NCREN serves more than 450 of these institutions, including all public K-12 schools in the state and provides students and teachers with quality high speed broadband so they can integrate multimedia and distance education into the curriculum.
Today, technology changes and improves at an amazing pace. What is new today is old hat by next week. The United States continues to operate under the regulatory authority set by the Communications Acts of 1934 and 1996. At best we’re operating off of a framework that is 17 years old potentially stifling innovation, job creation, and a renaissance of new and useful technologies that we didn’t know we couldn’t live without.
Congress must act quickly to update its communications policy framework while partnering and empowering private industry to robustly invest in network expansion and improvements. Outdated regulations are not beneficial to industry and it’s the American people that ultimately pay the price of burdensome rules.
I know that if policymakers, industry stakeholders, and regulators work in concert to enact smart policies that protect consumers, foster innovation, and help to build and sustain new businesses, the United States will continue to be the standard which other nations look to when developing policies in the telecommunications space.
Thank you very much.