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William Kennard
Federal Communications Commission
Opening Remarks - Bismarck Field Hearing
Bismarck State College - Bismarck, North Dakota
Monday, November 22, 1999.

(As Prepared for Delivery)

Thank you Senator Dorgan for inviting us to your wonderful state. We are honored to be here today.

We have had a full morning. We met with some great folks doing all kinds of things in communications and anxious to do more. We at the FCC are also anxious to do more to speed the deployment of broadband services and we're looking forward to hearing from you all today.

When you hear about telecommunications you hear a lot of talk about competition, about how it's overtaking the country and transforming the lives of Americans everywhere. But I know that this is not always the case. Competition does not come to all people and all parts of America at the same time.

Congress understood this when it passed the 1996 Telecommunications Act, and so it created an Act that rested on two fundamental pillars. The first pillar, as we all know, was competition, but the second pillar, universal service, was just as important. For the first time in history, this country has a federal law that says that all Americans rich, poor, urban, rural, people with disabilities must have equal access to advanced telecommunications services.

And I'm pleased to say Senator Dorgan has helped us all keep our sights focused on the second pillar of the Act the universal service pillar. The Senator has spearheaded efforts to put the broadband issue before the public and speed the deployment of advanced services to rural America.

He has operated in the spirit of a story I heard recently about two traveling shoe salesmen. The two shoe salesmen were asked to go into the rural areas to examine the markets. The first one did due diligence and concluded: "No one wears shoes here; returning on the next flight." The second one went out and scoped several areas and concluded: "No one wears shoes here; send out 100 more shoe salesmen."

The Senator understands that telecommunications is a growing and increasingly important part of our economy, and he recognizes that those communities without access to broadband will be placed at enormous risk in the next century. The Senator has organized two major events in Washington in which he brought together the CEOs of every major telecommunications company to discuss the market potential of rural America and to talk about deploying advanced services to rural America.

And he has spoken out repeatedly on the broadband issue, focusing a spotlight on a matter of vital importance to North Dakota and every other rural region in the country. He has said, quote, that "to compete in this new information age our rural areas need the same access as large cities."

I'm pleased to join the Senator at an event devoted to making sure that rural America, as Senator Dorgan has put it, does not get left "on the wrong side of the digital divide." And I'd also like to acknowledge my fine colleagues from the Public Service Commission, Commissioner Hagen and Commissioner Wefald. The State and federal governments must join forces to ensure all Americans benefit from the Information Age, and I am pleased to see the state Commissioners working so closely with us to speed broadband deployment to all parts of America.

This hearing today is not about policymakers in North Dakota explaining our positions on broadband and other issues. Today's hearing is about hearing directly from North Dakotans about the availability of broadband and the role that broadband will play in the state's economic future. And I can say I'm anxious to hear from you.