Chair Quigley Statement at The Need for Universal Broadband: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic Hearing

2021-05-18 10:37

Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL), Chair of the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's hearing on The Need for Universal Broadband: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic:

This morning we welcome four individuals with expertise in broadband: 

  • Matt Dunne of the Center on Rural Innovation, 
  • Max Stier of the Partnership for Public Service, 
  • Joi Chaney from the National Urban League, 
  • and Lang Zimmerman of Yelcot Communications. 

They are here today to discuss one of the most important issues of our times: ensuring that all Americans have the connectivity to fully participate in our economy and society. 

Broadband has been an enormous benefit to our country. It’s a key driver of economic growth and innovation, has democratized access to educational resources and new job opportunities, and has broadened availability of health care and social services. 

But during the COVID-19 pandemic, broadband become much more than that. It became a matter, literally, of life and death. 

People with reliable broadband at home were more easily able to socially distance by transitioning to telecommuting and remote learning. They could use video conferencing to keep in touch with friends and family, access health care services, order essential supplies and medicines, and use government services. 

In other words, the pandemic has made it abundantly clear that access to reliable broadband is not a luxury but a necessity. Broadband is as important to modern life as electricity or running water. 

Unfortunately, not everyone was so fortunate. Many of our rural communities have no connectivity or remain reliant on outdated technologies that don’t provide sufficient bandwidth. 

Communities of color have also been disproportionately affected. It has limited access to jobs, left many students of color struggling to keep up with their schoolwork, and put many people of color at higher risk of catching the coronavirus. 

As the subcommittee that oversees the Federal Communications Commission, we have been working on these issues for years, and we ramped up our efforts during the pandemic. 

We helped secure billions in funding to provide devices and connectivity for at-home learning and telemedicine. We’ve provided substantial resources for better broadband maps and given states the flexibility to use coronavirus relief funds on broadband.

And we are excited that just last week, the FCC launched the Emergency Broadband Benefit, a $3.2 billion program to provide discounted broadband services and devices to low-income Americans, including people affected by the pandemic. 

Those efforts are just the beginning, however. There is bipartisan agreement about the importance of ensuring universal broadband access, and the Biden Administration has made it clear that broadband is one of their main priorities in an infrastructure package. 

Today, we will learn more about how the lack of broadband affects rural communities, the connectivity issues facing communities of color, and the challenges of small internet providers. And we will hear about an issue dear to me and my fellow appropriators—how broadband might make the Federal government more efficient and effective. 

These insights will help ensure that we fully incorporate lessons from the pandemic into our infrastructure discussions and ensure we get the most value for each dollar we invest. 

I look forward to the discussion. 

117th Congress