OHIO VALLEY — Holding true to what she told those in attendance at the recent Appalachian Ohio-West Virginia Connectivity Summit and Town Hall, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Mignon Clyburn took the stories of the people of the region back to Washington D.C.
Commissioner Clyburn, along with her fellow FCC commissioners, testified this week before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology for a hearing on FCC Oversight and Reauthorization.
“Last week, I had the privilege of traveling to Marietta, Ohio. There I heard countless stories of individuals, businesses and local government leaders who, but for no other reason than their geographic location and maybe a slight income gap, find themselves on the wrong side of the digital and opportunities divide,” said Clyburn in her opening statement to the committee.
“Too many families in rural America and even many urban communities are suffering from poor to no connectivity and substandard service that, to add insult to injury, is simply unaffordable. I believe however that if we commit as an agency to put the interest of consumers and small businesses first the we will truly be able to say that we’re fulfilling our statutory mandate to serve the public interests,” added Clyburn.
“I always stand ready to work with my colleagues, this Subcommittee, state and local partners and business leaders to advance policies that put consumers first and ensure that our communications landscape remains the envy of the world,” Clyburn stated.
As her testimony before the committee continued with questions from committee members, Clyburn continued to make reference to the stories that she had heard from those at the summit and town hall.
“When you have a small business owner that might be worried whether her website or her experience would be throttled. That is the type of uncertainty that no small business should be worried about,” said Clyburn.
“They (small businesses) don’t have the power of being able to buy more expanded robust service opportunity that brings them faster speeds,” said Clyburn of the struggle for small businesses to obtain reliable and affordable internet.
“We heard from a lady in Congressman Johnson’s district that said she lost $300 or $400 a month because throttling and her inability to promote her art work,” stated Clyburn. “These are very real problems that are happening to real people and if they don’t have a level playing field it will continue.”
Regarding the topic of mobile broadband, Clyburn pointed out that it can fill some gaps, but is not an answer in all areas.
“I mentioned that I was in Representative Johnson’s district and mobile broadband is definitely necessary, especially on those roads where I did not have service,” said Clyburn. “Especially in those households where they can only afford one connection. Mobile broadband has to be front and center….Over 300 million of us have mobile connectivity but it is not all created equal.
Congressman Bill Johnson (R-Marietta) serves on the committee and had the opportunity to ask Clybrun and her colleagues questions regarding broadband in the region.
“Broadband development and deployment is a top priority,” stated FCC Chair Ajit Pai. Pai noted that he is working with other agencies, including through the Rural Prosperity Working Group, on ways to deliver rural broadband connectivity.
Pai noted that there is a lot more to do.
“Closing the digital divide is a number one priority,” Pai told Johnson.
“Thank you for your testimony on affordable, reliable broadband specifically as it relates to those like Ohio and my district. I share your goal in that regard,” said Johnson to Clyburn.
“My only regret is that I wish I had known that you were coming to my district with enough advance notice that we could have participated with you and your summits and your meetings there,” noted Johnson.
Clyburn told the Congressman that she believed his office was contacted regarding the matter.
“I didn’t know anything about it until I read about it in the newspaper afterwards, but if you want to come back again I would certainly encourage that because people in my district know what a struggle it is in our areas without broadband connectivity,” said Johnson.
The Sentinel reached out to summit and town hall organizers to verify an invitation for Johnson’s office.
“Congressman Johnson was invited by the Citizens Connectivity Committee on June 27th. His invitation was emailed to both Lisl Davis and Kevin Smart in his office,” stated Lenny Eliason in a prepared statement.
Kevin Smart attended a portion of the daytime summit and the evening town hall on behalf of Congressman Johnson.
“His (Johnson’s) claim that he wasn’t invited is not correct. The gatekeeping and lack of briefing regarding FCC Commissioner Clyburn is something that Congressman Johnson should review with his staff,” added Eliason.
“Since I do not live in his district I could not email him directly through the congressional web service and had to send it to his staff which makes direct contact difficult and may have resulted in his misconception,” Eliason concluded.
Returning back to questions for the commissioner, Johnson asked if there was an obstacle which Clyburn could identify that was preventing a tech company from deploying their own fiber network in rural America.
“As it stands now making a business case. You have very beautiful country and very beautiful people but its not necessarily the most densely populated region,” said Clyburn.
Clyburn stated that there were basic things that she heard from constituents in Johnson’s district, such as landline phones going out when it rains, that need to be addressed in the region, as well as broadband. While some areas are concerned with 5G coverage, Clyburn noted that the Appalachian region is concerned about other things like the landlines.
“I can actually personally relate to some of what you just said because, living right there in Marietta, I mean I live in town, we’ve got broadband connectivity, but every time it storms it goes down, the internet goes out and its a problem. I can only imagine the frustration that the unserved areas of my district face,” said Johnson
“I am looking forward to continuing to work, return (to the region)… as we’ve got some very fundamental problems that we need to address,” said Clyburn of continuing to work for the Appalachian region and returning to the area.
“I look forward to working with you,” Johnson concluded.
Numerous officials at the state, local and national levels were in attendance for either the summit, town hall or both as part of Commissioner Clyburn’s July 18 visit to Marietta, as well as over 200 participants at each of the two events.
Representatives from the following officials attended either or both events: West Virginia Congressman David McKinney; Congressman Bill Johnson; Senators Shelley Moore Capito, Joe Manchin, Sherrod Brown, Rob Portman; Gov. John Kasich; Ohio Treasurer’s Department; and West Virginia Development Office.
Officials in attendance included: Roger Hanshaw, Brian Casto, Rick Atkinson, Ray Hollon of West Virginia House of Delegates; Mitch Carmichael, West Virginia Senate President; Ohio State Senator Frank Hoagland; and Ohio State Rep. Jay Edwards.
Sarah Hawley is the Managing Editor of The Daily Sentinel. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.