Lawmakers weighed legislation designed to reduce the obstacles to building broadband infrastructure at a hearing Wednesday.

“We need to ensure that our federal policies allow networks to manage the growing tidal wave of information,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

{mosads}The subcommittee was considering six pieces of draft legislation that use different approaches to the same problem: how to make it easier for companies to put up the infrastructure critical to delivering high-speed internet service to Americans.

One proposal is the so-called “dig-once” bill that would mandate that federally-funded highway projects must also lay down fiber-optic cable conduit in certain areas. The bill is backed by both Walden and the subcommittee’s ranking member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.).

Other draft bills would make it easier for companies to put their equipment on telephone poles and make the permitting process that apply to the broadband industry clearer and faster.

“The best part is, if we can package all of these and move them forward, then collectively they will really put a dent in the problem that we have,” said Eshoo.

Industry witnesses spoke about the difficulties facing broadband providers looking to develop their infrastructure.

“To build out wireless infrastructure that reaches all Americans, our members need access to locations controlled by the federal government and by non-federal government entities,” said witness Scott Bergmann, the vice president of regulatory affairs at wireless trade association CTIA.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) expressed wariness at the idea that improving wireless broadband required congressional mandates, while noting he believed there were issues with the process for placing cell towers on federal lands.

“I believe incentives are better than federal mandates,” he said. “I am troubled that we are beginning to take the position that access to … wireless services are some sort of an entitlement. Some people would hope that we’d have a McDonalds on every corner, but we let the market decide where we put McDonalds and Burger Kings.”

When asked about that contention, witness Deb Socia, Executive Director of NextCentury Cities, argued that broadband was essential enough that government should step in to improve access.

She said that she believe “we’re coming to the place where we need to think of it in the same way, that it is essential infrastructure and that we need all hands on deck.

“And if the market can’t solve the problem then we need to figure out how to solve the problem.”



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