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August 3, 2000

Separate Statement of
Commissioner Susan Ness

Re: Inquiry Concerning the Deployment of Advanced Telecommunications Capability to All Americans in a Reasonable and Timely Fashion, and Possible Steps to Accelerate Such Deployment Pursuant to Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (CC Docket No. 98-146)

Congress recognized the critical importance of access to advanced services in Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. That Section directs us to determine whether advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans on a reasonable and timely basis and, if not, to take immediate action to accelerate such deployment.

The data compiled for this second Section 706 Report identify some promising trends. For most of the country, as consumer appetite for bandwidth grows, the number of residential subscribers to advanced services is increasing dramatically. I am encouraged that companies deploying a variety of technologies- including wireline, cable, wireless, broadcast, and satellite - are investing billions of dollars to meet this consumer demand.

But our data also flag some very troubling trends: some communities - especially those in rural and in economically disadvantaged areas -- are at risk of not receiving the same access as other areas.

Meaningful access to broadband facilities may well be the lifeblood of these communities, spelling the difference between economic revitalization and stagnation. Advanced services enable businesses to serve the globe from even the most remote locations. As businesses thrive in these communities, young people can remain in their home towns rather than be forced to migrate to the cities for their economic well-being. And, as we have seen firsthand, broadband access can greatly improve educational and healthcare opportunities for these "at-risk" citizens in both rural and low income areas.

In these early stages of deployment, we have a unique opportunity to prevent a crack from becoming a chasm.

Already, we are taking steps to accelerate the deployment of advanced services. Through E-Rate discounts to schools and libraries, we are helping to bring high-speed services to the very heart of communities across the nation. Not only can a high-speed Internet connection to a school or library be a tremendous resource for the whole community, but the facilities can serve as the foundation for broader deployment throughout the area. We should examine carefully how we can leverage this extremely successful resource.

We are also facilitating the development of new broadband technologies by encouraging innovative solutions to spectrum scarcity. And in collaboration with our state colleagues, we convened a Joint Conference, and crisscrossed the country to identify and disseminate "best practices" that have been instrumental in delivering advanced services to these particularly vulnerable communities. I applaud the members of the Joint Conference for their outstanding work.

But we need to remain vigilant. We must redouble our efforts to eliminate barriers to competition so companies have the incentive to invest. While the data collected for this report are an improvement over our first effort, our data gathering efforts still need refinement to ensure that we get a complete and accurate picture of whether broadband is being deployed throughout the country. If certain geographic areas or demographic groups are not receiving access to advanced services, we need to understand what may be causing the lag.

We should not assume that one-size-fits-all policies work for all areas of the country or all sizes and types of carriers. Different high-speed access technologies work better in different locations and circumstances. For example, wireless and satellite services on the horizon may be particularly well-suited to reach consumers in remote areas.

Section 706 makes clear that our goal is to encourage the reasonable and timely deployment of advanced services to all Americans. Today's Report describes a highly dynamic market for advanced services, and in many areas of our nation, the competitive marketplace is primed for their timely deployment. But I remain deeply concerned about communities at risk - pockets of rural, remote, and economically disadvantaged populations -- where access is lagging. I would like to see the type of innovation and investment that has blessed our largest cities extended to the rest of America.