U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s voice on telecommunications and broadband policy has amplified in the 115th Congress as the new House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology chairman.
In a two-part interview with Bloomberg BNA (Part I here and Part II here), the Tennessee Republican spoke about what she’s hoping Congress and agencies will do to increase spectrum availability and expand broadband access with a much-anticipated infrastructure bill.
Her first priority: refocusing the roles of two agencies that control the allocation of spectrum, or the radio waves that allow for wireless communications and the internet.
Blackburn said the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) need to be scaled back in scope. Then they can look at ways to free up spectrum for more commercial applications by wireless carriers and internet providers.
“You’ve had a lot of mission creep and taking on things that are not essential to the core missions of the agencies,” Blackburn told Bloomberg BNA.
Efforts to curtail the FCC’s authority have faced opposition by Democrats and consumer advocacy groups.
Meanwhile, the infrastructure spending bill taking shape will focus on rural broadband expansion, she said. The bill will likely be funded with some direct government spending, Blackburn said, but tax credits for private sector investment should be considered as well. Money saved by trimming the NTIA and FCC’s focus may also be channeled toward broadband infrastructure, she said.
The first target of the expansion will be unconnected rural Americans, Blackburn said. Internet access, she argued, is indispensable to the delivery of better healthcare, educational opportunities and economic development projects in every corner of America, she said.
“Broadband is the infrastructure issue of this decade,” Blackburn told Bloomberg BNA.
The infrastructure bill might also include language to help streamline local and state regulatory processes as the private sector looks to expand wireline, fiber, fixed wireless and other technologies for better connection in communities.
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