WASHINGTON—United States Senator Bill Hagerty (R-TN), Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government (FSGG), today delivered opening remarks at a hearing reviewing the Fiscal Year 2024 Budget for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Opening remarks as prepared for delivery:
Thank you Chairman Van Hollen for convening this hearing. As the new Ranking Member of this subcommittee, I appreciate these opportunities to work with you and our colleagues to conduct rigorous oversight and ensure tax dollars are spent effectively.
I also want to thank our witness, Chairwoman Rosenworcel for taking the time to appear before this subcommittee. I look forward to your testimony.
As with the airwaves that are broadcasting this hearing, the FCC’s influence on the economy, national security, and daily routines of Americans is paradoxically both ubiquitous and invisible.
The FCC regulates the non-Federal use of the electromagnetic spectrum that we rely on for mundane activities like opening and closing the garage door, all the way to the global delivery of events that allows us to witness history as it unfolds in real time. And not just on television, but over mobile devices.
The FCC also regulates speech – specifically, children’s programming, campaign advertising, and indecency – but today only for broadcasters. Whether the FCC should, or should not, or to what degree, regulate the speech of social media platforms is currently under debate. Personally, I’ve introduced legislation—the 21st Century Free Speech Act—that would ensure that all Americans have reasonable, non-discriminatory access to Big Tech speech platforms. It would also limit the ability of Big Tech platforms to discriminate against free speech on ideological or political grounds. That’s because I believe that Americans—rather than Big Tech companies—should determine what information to consume, share, and believe.
The FCC also, in coordination with other Federal agencies, has a role in regulating communications equipment – equipment that may pose an unacceptable national security risk, which means the FCC can prohibit the sale or use of domestic or foreign-made equipment in the United States.
We are in an information age that depends on reliable and secure data, video, and voice transmissions, as well as reliable and secure networks and devices.
We all experienced that first-hand during the pandemic, trying to work from home while sitting around the kitchen table with our children, who were trying to attend class remotely.
The FCC’s highest priority, according to its strategic plan, is to help bring affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband to 100 percent of the population.
Once upon a time, in the 1950’s, the FCC’s highest priority was to bring telephone service to 100 percent of the population. Telephones, rotary ones, were considered a necessity that should be provided to all. The FCC has come close, but still has not achieved ubiquity.
As technology changed, the definition of universal service changed to encompass wireless service. And now it includes broadband.
I’ll also add that the definition of broadband has changed. At one point, it was the 10/1 standard, now it is 25/3, and in the future it could be 100/20. In other words, as long as the definition and measure of universal service and broadband keeps changing, then the goal of 100 percent connectivity is unattainable.
One thing, however, that has not changed, nor will it ever, is that resources are limited.
The FCC relies on fees to pay for its operations. In Federal budget parlance, these costs are offset, which is often mistaken for “free.” These costs are not free. They are ultimately paid by consumers and it is the subcommittee’s prerogative to limit these costs, which are growing.
If the FCC’s full budget request were enacted, then the FCC’s costs will have grown by 26 percent, or 8 percent annually on average since FY21, excluding mandatory funding.
As a former businessman, I instinctively want to see evidence of a corresponding increase in output or productivity for that type of increase in investments.
Chairwoman Rosenworcel, I hope you can address these concerns, particularly my concerns with national security, today in both your testimony and during the period of questions.