While equitable broadband access was a recurring point of discussion during the hearing, several witnesses discussed the critical role broadband plays in public health and safety.
As more bipartisan tech-focused bills gain traction in Congress, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a legislative hearing focusing on the security and innovation behind several telecommunications bills.
Expert witnesses accompanied lawmakers during the Tuesday hearing on the importance of bridging the digital divide with widespread broadband access nationwide.
“We're continuing this committee's longtime work in this subcommittee of ensuring that our nation's communications networks are stable, secure and reliable,” Committee Chairman Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J. said. “This committee has a long tradition of working together in a bipartisan fashion to lay the groundwork for technological innovation in this country.”
There were five items of pending legislation in question, including the “Simplifying Management, Reallocation, and Transfer of Spectrum Act,” or SMART Act, and the “Extending America's Spectrum Auction Leadership Act of 2022.”
While equitable broadband access was a recurring point of discussion during the hearing, several witnesses discussed the critical role broadband plays in public health and safety. Thomas Kadri, a law professor at the University of Georgia, highlighted the high volume of domestic abuse reports that hinge on connectability.
“Digital abuse is on the rise,” Kadri said while testifying on the hidden dangers of digital abuse within family plans “Domestic violence charity Refuge estimates that 95% of its cases involve technology, while the National Domestic Violence Hotline has seen a 155% increase in reports of digital abuse between 2015 and 2018.”
Fellow witness Mark Gibson, a regulatory officer with OnGo Alliance, added that high speed internet and 5G broadband access helped keep rural Americans safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Gibson specifically referenced the importance of his organization’s Citizen Broadband Radio Service, or CBRS, deploying across the country.
“[Broadband] deployments support all reaches of telecommunications including support for distance learning during COVID, enabling hospital COVID triage centers, helping otherwise poorly connected farmers achieve 5G connectivity, support for critical manufacturing automation and helping to connect disparate corners of our supply chain,” he said.
Gibson used the CBRS deployment as an example of why the subcommittee should support the SMART Act.
Expanding broadband connectivity is a major goal in the Biden administration agenda. Back in February, the Commerce Department delegated more than $277 million in federal aid to states to support broadband infrastructure projects.
This money stemmed from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, which allocated roughly $65 billion in funding to broadband expansion nationwide.