Source: Hardcopy provided by Senate Commerce Committee.  Scanned and converted into html by Tech Law Journal.

Statement of Senator Conrad Burns
Communications Subcommittee of the
Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee
Hearing on Section 706 and Related Broadband Issues
April 22, 1998

I would like to welcome our witnesses today for a hearing on a topic of vital interest to the continuing strength of the information revolution: how to facilitate the buildout of broadband technology.

The Internet has transformed itself in a few short years from an obscure online outpost frequented mainly by scientists to a mass medium used daily by over 50 million people worldwide. The explosion of information technology has created opportunities undreamed of by previous generations. Companies ranging from garage startups to multinational corporations are bringing their goods and services into the electronic realm at an ever-escalating rate. Students are able to gain access to educational materials despite their geographical location.

All of these exciting opportunities risk being stopped dead in their tracks by a problem caused by the very popularity and productivity of the Internet: data congestion. In short, there is a looming "bandwidth deficit" developing in the public switched network. The reason for this looming deficit is the onslaught of data traffic on the network. Local telephone companies calculate that by the year 2000, they will be carrying as much Internet data as voice traffic. In some areas of the country, this is already the case.

The first step in alleviating this congestion is to understand the fundamental different between data traffic and voice traffic. Data requires far more bandwidth -- voice circuits carry only 4 thousand bits per second while data circuits carry 100 million bits per second. Data also changes the nature of usage. Nearly one-third of the total minutes of use generated by dial-up Internet traffic comes from calls lasting more than 3 hours. The average telephone call is 4 to 5 minutes.

Significant investment is necessary to overcome this bandwidth deficit. The deployment of advanced network capabilities was a significant goal and promise of the 1996 Act. I question whether this promise is being fulfilled, despite the overwhelming demand for these services.

Today the Subcommittee will hear from witnesses who will testify as to the phenomenal advances being made in the field of broadband media. Current and future projects reveal a world that will see advanced broadband services such as the Internet, interactive video, and multimedia offered to consumers regardless of their location. The Subcommittee will hear about distribution technologies such as fiber, aDSL and satellite that all feature data speeds exponentially greater than current modems offer today. These technologies are particularly important to rural states such as Montana, a state with 148,000 square miles and only about 850,000 people. I know my colleagues are just as concerned about the current data bottleneck and the technologies that could open it up.

I anticipated some aspects of the current crisis in 1996. At that time, I was concerned that we might end up with a regulatory structure that would create disincentives for investment. To address this, I authored Section 706 which directs the FCC and the State Public Utility Commissions to promote the deployment of advanced telecommunications capabilities through deregulatory measures.

I look forward to today's testimony from industry as an opportunity to build a record with regard to the appropriate use of Section 706. Later oversight hearings will provide a forum to followup with the Commission concerning the implementation of this fundamental area of the Telecommunications Act.

The true promise of the information age is that it will bring advanced interactive broadband communications to literally all regions of the country and the world. We look forward to a future of limitless opportunity, where individuals can become businesses overnight and citizens have access to boundless information. Increasing bandwidth is a critical step in ensuring that this dream can become a reality.

I look forward to hearing all the witnesses' testimony, and I thank them for taking the time to appear here today.