Construction Industry News
Good morning. Today, the committee gathers to discuss the state of the nation’s broadband maps. I am glad to convene this hearing with my colleague, Ranking Member Cantwell. I welcome our witnesses today:
- Mr. Tim Donovan, Senior Vice President, with the Competitive Carriers Association
- Mr. Mike McCormick, President of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation
- Mr. Jonathan Spalter, President and CEO of USTelecom – The Broadband Association;
- Mr. Chip Strange, Vice President Strategic Initiatives, Ookla; and
- Mr. Mike Obilzalo, Vice President and General Manager, Hood Canal Communications.
In today’s digital economy, access to broadband is essential. It is through broadband that Americans can access jobs, education, and economic opportunities. Broadband also powers new industries and enables core economic sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, and transportation to be more efficient, productive, and competitive in the United States and around the globe.
In February, the Federal Communications Commission issued its draft 2019 Broadband Deployment Report showing gains in broadband connectivity throughout the country. However, the digital divide persists for far too many families in Mississippi and across the nation.
As I have said before, we are almost one-fifth of the way through the 21stCentury, hard to believe. And we ought to be able to get all Americans connected soon.
To close the digital divide, we need to have accurate broadband maps that tell us where broadband is available and where it is not available at certain speeds. This is critical because maps are used to inform federal agencies about where to direct broadband support. Flawed and inaccurate maps ultimately waste resources and stifle opportunities for economic development in our rural and underserved communities.
I hope our witnesses today will speak to the costs, timing, and potential challenges to collecting more accurate and granular broadband coverage data, including whether the data will be too out of date to be useful once it is all gathered.
I would also like the witnesses to address how to improve existing broadband mapping approaches at the FCC and NTIA, and whether the FCC is collecting the right data to determine the availability of fixed and reliable mobile broadband across the country.
Improving the nation’s broadband maps starts with better coordination and information sharing among federal agencies responsible for administering broadband deployment programs.
I hope we will soon have legislation in this regard. It is important that the FCC, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture work cooperatively to coordinate and share information on broadband coverage data and broadband deployment programs.
Increased coordination and information sharing would enhance efforts to develop a more accurate broadband map and ensure federal funds are targeted to unserved areas.
Improving broadband maps also requires the collection of more granular and accurate data about existing broadband coverage. To that end, I welcome the FCC’s ongoing proceeding to address shortcomings in its Form 477, which is used to collect broadband deployment data from service providers twice a year. The data is then used to develop a broadband map that helps the Commission determine areas that are eligible for Universal Service support.
An obvious concern with the Form, among others, is that it asks providers to submit data about where they couldprovide service to a location within a service interval without an extraordinary commitment of resources. This service interval is approximately 7 to 10 business days.
I hope the witnesses will comment on ideas being discussed to replace or supplement the Form 477 data, such as using location-based proposals or shapefile-based proposals.
In submitting information about where service could be provided, I am concerned that this information is represented on the FCC’s broadband availability maps with little verification about whether the service provider could or would actually provide the service at the advertised speed. Incorporating data about where service could be provided may ultimately lead to overstated broadband coverage and availability on maps.
So I would like the witnesses to comment on the value of maintaining a challenge process after data is collected to verify the accuracy of the data provided to the FCC.
Developing accurate broadband maps is a priority for this Committee. With so much at stake, it is incumbent upon us to find ways to ensure that we have sound understanding of existing broadband availability across the country.
The committee welcomes input from the witnesses on the appropriate role for Congress in developing accurate maps.
I look forward to a thoughtful discussion on these issues and again welcome all of our witnesses.
Glad to be here today with my colleague and friend, Ranking Member Cantwell, to discuss the topic of the Blue Economy. This is an issue that is vitally important to her state, and my state, and to the rest of the United States.
I am particularly pleased to have this panel of witnesses today.
- Including my dear friend of a number of decades, Governor Phil Bryant of Mississippi. He and I began our service together as state legislators back in the early 90s. He has served as state auditor since then to the governor and is now in his eighth year as Governor of Mississippi. So, Phil, we are delighted to have you here and thank you for your public service.
- We are also joined by Mr. Scott Deal, President and CEO of Maverick Boats. Mr. Deal has not only built one of the premier boat companies in the world, he has been recognized for his leadership in marine conservation efforts.
- And also, we welcome Mr. Michael Conathan, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute’s High Seas Initiative. He is a former staff member of the Commerce Committee under our friend and former colleague Senator Snowe.
The impact of the oceans on our economy is everywhere. In Mississippi, we move 25 million tons of goods through the Port of Gulfport every year, and those goods end up throughout the nation and the world. A hurricane that hits the Gulf Coast can have a crippling effect on energy prices, delayed freight, and economic damage throughout the country.
I recently spent two nights in Seattle, the home state of my colleague and Ranking Member, and it was wonderful and impressive to look out over the pungent sound all that commerce moving through there and it just continues to grow.
In the last Congress, my colleagues and I worked to grow the Blue Economy by leading the Modern Fish Act and the Commercial Engagement Through Ocean Technology Act, or CENOTE, both of which were enacted into law and signed by the President. Today, we will ask all of our witnesses to address what the Federal government can do to ensure our federal waters work for all sectors that use them.
Over the years, I have heard complaints from recreational fishermen about how they had been an afterthought for federal fisheries managers. Our nation’s fisheries law, the Magnuson Stevens Act, was established to manage commercial fisheries.
It is no surprise, then, that a management system designed for commercial activity did not work for recreational fishermen who want to spend more time on the water, not catch their quota as quickly as possible.
The Modern Fish Act requires the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to be more responsive to the needs of our recreational fisheries. It allows for the use of additional management tools like extraction rates, fishing mortality rates, and harvest control rules.
We will certainly be providing oversight to the administration as they develop the ways to implement the Modern Fish Act.
I hope Mr. Deal will address the Modern Fish Act and other issues important to recreational fishermen in his testimony and responses to questions.
In addition, our oceans are woefully under observed. That’s why I have advocated for the strategic use of Unmanned Maritime Systems. These systems are a cost-effective way to bring out a dramatic increase in the number of ocean observations NOAA obtains.
Unmanned maritime systems serve a valuable role when the mission is too dangerous, dull, or dirty for human crews. For example, knowing the water temperature below the surface is critical for predicting how quickly a hurricane will intensify. Getting these measurements is a job for unmanned systems.
The CENOTE Act encourages NOAA to think strategically and comprehensively about incorporating unmanned maritime systems. I hope Governor Bryant and our other witnesses will address how we can harness marine technology, particularly when it comes to oceans observations and data collection.
Observations are also critically important for our nation’s increasingly busy ports, where aging infrastructure and frequent changes in wind, tide level, and current make navigation a tricky business. I would like to hear from our witnesses about what the Federal government can do to provide ports with real-time information on weather and tides and to support the efficient movement of freight.
We had some big successes last Congress, and I can assure you this is a topic that is vitally interesting to this Chairman and this Ranking Member, and we think there is more to do. I look forward to working with Senator Cantwell and the rest of the members of this Committee as we continue to develop legislation to advance the Blue Economy in the 116thCongress.
So, thank you to our witnesses and I now turn to my friend and Ranking Member, Senator Cantwell for her opening statement.
CANTWELL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you again for visiting the Pacific Northwest and seeing how important the blue economy is in many complex ways. Puget Sound is one of the busiest waterways in the nation when you look at the amount of cargo, marine transportation system with our ferry system, and fishing and recreational activities. So it is a very busy waterway, so thank you for visiting.
Governor, very good to have you here before the committee. I look forward to visiting your state very soon. We’ve been visited by many people already from your state who are very interested in going back to the continuation of the Amtrak service from New Orleans all the way across to Mobile, and we want to continue to work with the Chairman on that issue and many others.
Mr. Conathan, very good to see you here again. Thank you for being here and for your work at the Aspen Institute. Particularly for your global work on fisheries because I think that is a conversation we’ve had a little bit before the committee, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on that and some other specificity related to the U.S.
And Mr. Deal, thank you for representing the maritime shipbuilding industry. I am very interested in what the United States can do to continue to build our naval architecture and technology framework in shipbuilding. I think that the United States has many bright days ahead, particularly as we look at the opening of the Artic as a way to move products and services to creating a shipbuilding fleet in the United States that can accommodate that. So look forward to your comments.
The ocean represents not just a maritime industry but our culture and our heritage. The blue economy supports 69,000 jobs, and indirectly supports 191,000 jobs in the state of Washington. So, it is a very big part of our economy. It includes shipbuilding, trade, transportation, fisheries, tourism, and as I mentioned, recreation. Our maritime economy is incredibly diverse – from the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, which make up the fourth-largest container gateway in North America, to the fifth generation shellfish growers at Hama Hama Oyster Company on Hood Canal. It’s a pretty broad spectrum. Obviously our Northwest Tribes, which we have 29 tribes, are also very involved in the fishing fleet of our nation. So it is my pleasure to work with the Chairman on the diverse set of maritime issues that come before this committee.
We must safeguard science-based fisheries management to protect fishing for generations to come, and we need to restore habitat to support recreational and shellfish harvesting and tourism. So, all of these are challenges every day. Last Sunday marked the 30th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill, which resulted 1,300 miles of pristine Alaska coastline being covered in oil. Billions of salmon eggs were destroyed, and 30 years later, a stock of Pacific Herring is nearly extinct. So we need to get these issues right, and we need to continue to focus on protecting our environment.
Oil spills aren’t the only threat to the blue economy. Commercial, recreation, and Alaskan Native fishermen have joined outfitters, tourism businesses, and large seafood industries to voice their concerns about the proposed Pebble Mine and its impact on the livelihood of their communities. The Pebble Mine is a proposed large, open pit mine in the headwaters of one of the most productive salmon runs in entire world. Half of the sockeye salmon on the planet come from Bristol Bay. Last year, 60 million fish returned to Bristol Bay to support 14,000 jobs. And yet the administration is looking to fast forward a permit process for Pebble Mine, which we think would reach very hazardous impacts if any kind of incident were to happen. That’s why I’ve supported calls to extend the public comment period for Army Corps of Engineers Impact Statement. And I have called for additional public hearings so that fishermen can have their voices heard. Unfortunately, those calls have been unanswered as of yet, but I hope that we will get the administration to understand that it is not worth damaging future generations of salmon run to put an open pit gold mine there.
The ocean economy also provides high-quality protein and countless riches, and we need to continue to, as I mentioned earlier, do science-based management. My colleague mentioned the Magnusson-Stevenson Act. I think the Pacific Northwest has probably done some of the best implementation of fisheries management in the entire world. We need to continue to move forward, but doing so means that we have to have good resources for stock assessment. That we need to make the investment in these things so that we can propose those opportunities for the future.
So I look forward to asking the witnesses questions on these important issues, Mr. Chairman. And thank you for scheduling the hearing.