A bipartisan panel of five female senators previewed major items on the Capitol Hill technology agenda for 2022 at the Consumer Electronics Show on Jan. 7, including legislative priorities in broadband, STEM education, child protection, and advanced manufacturing.
During the panel session moderated by Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R.-Tenn., flagged the critical need for broadband investments to help unserved areas of the country, and allow for a range of technologies to compete for the money. Sen. Blackburn emphasized that the Senate must pass legislation that focuses explicitly on closing the digital divide and “providing this critical tool to underserved populations.”
“This is really going to be our biggest chance ever” to advance broadband aims, said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who co-chairs the Senate Broadband Caucus.
The senators agreed on the need to make sure that the $65 billion in funding approved by Congress late last year in the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act approved by Congress last November ends up being well spent.
However, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine said success in that effort depends on the Federal Communications Commission updating its mapping of broadband service across the country so that in-need areas can be appropriately targeted.
“The maps that we currently have do not accurately portray the need for broadband in some parts of our country,” Sen. Collins said.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash, who chairs the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, said another primary objective for this new year is to pass the United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA).
The legislation is broadly aimed at advancing U.S. competitiveness with China, including boosting semiconductor manufacturing and 5G wireless experimentation. The Senate passed one version last year, but senators and the House are still wrangling over a final version of the legislation. Among other tech items, the USICA legislation features $52 billion for the creation of a new Technology and Innovate directorate at the National Science Foundation (NSF).
“The primary thing we’re going to try to do [soon] when we return is to pass USICA,” Sen. Cantwell said. “We want to see innovation happen in other places. This bill is about geographic diversity,” she said.
The senators also stressed the need for regulations to protect consumer privacy online, especially as more and more people use online services.
“We need to hold big tech accountable so that consumers have the toolbox for protecting their privacy and data,” Sen. Blackburn remarked. She added that Senate Commerce’s consumer protection panel is also moving ahead on children’s online privacy after holding five hearings on the topic, and predicted more action on the issue soon.