Remarks by USTelecom President & CEO Jonathan Spalter
Broadband First: Investing in America’s Infrastructure
January 26, 2017
It was 60-plus years ago when President Dwight Eisenhower, fresh from World War II Europe’s front-row seat where he was able to see the efficiency of the German autobahn, came back to the United States and vowed to create our nation’s interstate highway system. Now, our 45th president is pledging very boldly to invest upwards of $1 trillion in a long-overdue upgrade to U.S. infrastructure. And, the Democrats have come forward just this week with their own equally ambitious plan.
The current effort and its post-World War II predecessor aimed to create jobs and propel our economy and security forward. But one central input is fundamentally different: the modern world we know is not just connected by asphalt and airstrips, but today, it’s also connected by 1s and 0s.
Many believe a major push on infrastructure holds out the greatest hope for meaningful, bipartisan progress in our country. It is essential that this push include broadband. Shoring up aging brick-and-mortar infrastructure clearly is essential to maintaining our country’s safety and economic vitality and health. But only by smartly connecting the dots between what is largely an analog effort and U.S. digital infrastructure can we achieve national outcomes that truly can be transformative for our country.
Case in point: think of intelligent transportation. At the dawn of the age not only of the connected vehicle, but also the connected traffic light, road sign, pedestrian, bicycle, street sign and bridge, we begin a journey that will not only expand our economy, but also open up the possibility that our children and our grandchildren will live in a world without traffic fatalities.
Broadband companies have invested more in U.S. infrastructure in the last two decades than any other sector of our economy – $1.5 trillion dollars and counting. It is an astounding number.
Yet, these same companies in recent years have suffered from what I would call Washington whiplash. On the one hand is the heady (and wholly accurate) talk about broadband’s importance and benefits it confers to all of our citizens.
But on the other hand, and in parallel, we’ve seen increasingly regressive policy decisions that actually undermine that potential and are widely and unfortunately credited with 2015’s decline in capital investment in U.S. broadband networks that we’ve recently reported at USTelecom.
We need to reverse this trend and bring U.S. broadband ambitions and U.S. broadband policy back into alignment—with full-throated support for a consistent, constructive and pro-investment policy environment.
And now, with a new administration and a new Congress in place, the question that we’re going to try to ask today, and hopefully draw some answers, is: how do we achieve this “Broadband First” vision?
First and foremost on our list is the idea of parity. Telecommunications companies alone remain shackled to stale regulatory structures written in the rotary phone era or, at best, when the honk and screech of dial-up internet (you remember that sound) was the siren call of the future.
Consumers win. Our economy grows. Our infrastructure advances more rapidly when broadband companies with telecom roots are permitted to compete vigorously and head-on with cable and other rivals from across the broadband ecosystem – free from dated and discriminatory rules.
And next, as Chairman Pai has recently made clear: we need to connect everyone. We need to address the digital divide. As we did with electricity and water, highways and telephones, our nation must remain fully committed to seeing that every citizen has access to broadband service, including in the vital rural areas of our country that need continued public support.
We need infrastructure strong enough to connect not just every person, but everything.We know from our friends and colleagues at Cisco that by the end of the decade, there will be more than 50 billion connected “things” in the world — yielding smarter homes, smarter businesses and smarter communities across our land.
This holds the potential to vastly improve virtually every yardstick of a vibrant, growing nation — from health care and public safety to education and energy conservation. Here, state and local governments have taken the early lead in advancing this effort with smart cities and similar initiatives. They want to position their communities as tech-forward to attract jobs and more innovation. We need to couple ambitious vision to the necessary, but often mundane work of making it happen — for example, streamlining rights of way and other permitting that encourages the arrival of the promised next-generation networks.
So, translating the Internet of Things into the Infrastructure of Things will take smart policy and strong public-private collaborations at all levels of government.That’s why we’re here and that’s what we want to talk about today: how can we deliver clarity and parity—a bright green light—to all investors in our nation’s broadband infrastructure? And we have an all-star line-up to have this conversation today.
- Mark Jamison, Advisor to the Trump FCC transition team, Visiting Fellow with AEI’s Center for Internet, Communication, and Technology and the director and Gunter Professor of the Public Utility Research Center at the University of Florida
- Kathleen Abernathy, Executive Vice President, Frontier
- John Branscome, Senior Counsel, U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
- Robert Hunt, USTelecom Chairman and Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and Business Operations, GVTC
- David Redl, Chief Counsel, Communications and Technology, House Committee on Energy and Commerce
- Marty Rubin, President & CEO, Smart City
- Eric Small, Vice President, Commercial and MDU Solutions, AT&T
- Jonathan Spalter, President & CEO, USTelecom
Click here to view a recording of the webcast.