Lawmakers gathered at a House Communications Subcommittee hearing spotlighted two schools of thought Tuesday on the subject of broadband deployment. As Republicans focused on the removal of regulatory and other barriers that impede the deployment of broadband infrastructure, particularly in rural areas, Democrats highlighted price and speed issues that limit broadband access and connectivity for low-income customers.

At the center of Tuesday’s hearing were two pieces of discussion draft legislation that have yet to be introduced. The first draft bill would facilitate deployment of broadband infrastructure by (1) creating an inventory of federal lands and assets on which broadband infrastructure could be installed, and (2) establishing a common template which federal landholders would be required to use when leasing space for wireless broadband facilities. Separately, the draft Broadband Conduit Deployment Act of 2017 would mandate the installation of broadband conduits during the construction of certain highway projects that receive federal funding. 

As she stressed the importance of “[modernizing] our laws to address issues such as tower siting and federal rights of ways,” subcommittee chairwoman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) told her colleagues, “we must cut through the red tape by streamlining permitting processes . . . in order to solve the broadband dilemma.” Blackburn also argued, with the concurrence of subcommittee members from both political parties, that “we must accurately collect and aggregate data to update the National Broadband Map” which was last updated in 2014 and which specifies areas of the country where broadband infrastructure and service are lacking. 

Meanwhile, ranking subcommittee member Mike Doyle (D-PA) observed that “far too many people . . . either have no access, limited access or overpriced access” to broadband network service, adding: “in many parts of the country, the free market has failed to close these gaps.” As Doyle pointed to FCC statistics which show that 82% of the national population has just one provider of high-speed broadband service to choose from, ranking House Energy & Commerce Committee member Frank Doyle (D-NJ) maintained that programs of tax incentives endorsed by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and others as a means of spurring private sector deployment “alone won’t get it done, especially in areas where there is not a strong business case” for broadband infrastructure investment. Members of both parties agreed, nevertheless, that broadband network deployment should be included in any larger measure advocated by President Trump to modernize the nation’s critical infrastructure.