WASHINGTON, D.C., March 15, 2012 - U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, addressing hundreds of ACA Members on Wednesday, urged the federal government to invest in rural broadband infrastructure to connect small cities and towns to the global economy, saying such a commitment would serve the long-term interests of the country and must be viewed as an initiative worthy of bipartisan support.
"Rural broadband will connect not only Jonesboro, Arkansas, to the world, but it also connects the world back to Jonesboro. That's the power of the Internet. We need to try to make it as widely available as we can and a lot of you all are going to be providing those services. So I'm a big rural broadband guy," Sen. Pryor said in his ACA Summit Congressional Keynote address.
Sen. Pryor -- a Senate Commerce Committee member who also discussed regulatory reform and cybersecurity issues in his remarks -- said the need to devote government resources to rural broadband projects was the modern version of the country's twin effort begun many decades ago to create navigable waterways and deliver electric power far beyond urban centers.
"We need to make sure that even though we are in a very difficult budget environment, we still invest in our infrastructure," Sen. Pryor said. "Today, it's broadband."
While waiting in the wings, Sen. Pryor was introduced to the ACA Summit audience by John Strode, Vice President of External Affairs for Ritter Communications, an ACA Member company based in Jonesboro, Ark.
"Few in Congress have a better sense of the needs of the independent cable community and its longstanding commitment to policies that promote choice and competition than Sen. Pryor," Strode said. "His commitment was shown when, after the National Broadband Plan was published, his office contacted our company and asked if we would have time for him to come to our offices to visit with us and hear from us about the impact of the plan on our company and our customers."
Sen. Pryor said he is co-sponsoring legislation with Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio that would require federal government agencies to meet with industry stakeholders at the beginning of each regulatory initiative; conduct cost-benefit analyses; and take the least costly steps needed to achieve the intended result. The bill could move in the Senate within a few months, he added.
"It won't be without controversy," Sen. Pryor said. "We are not picking on one agency. We want to change the way we regulate."
Sen. Pryor urged ACA Members to participate in the cybersecurity debate about how to defend computer networks from malicious attacks aimed at many targets, including corporations, government institutions and national security assets. That current law exposes some private telecom companies to liability for reporting national security threats needs to be reconsidered, he said.
"You all should have a seat at that table. We need to hear from you," Sen. Pryor said.
Similarly, Sen. Pryor told ACA Members to get involved in Internet privacy issues, including ones dealing with online business practices related to children and identification theft, which he said is a $37 billion problem annually and the Federal Trade Commission's top consumer complaint for 12 years running.
"You all are going to be players in that world and I just want you to be engaged and involved," Sen. Pryor said. "We need to hear from you on these issues."
Sen. Pryor was first elected to public office in 1990 as a member of the Arkansas State House of Representatives. In 1998, he was elected Arkansas Attorney General and in 2008, he was elected to serve a second term in the U.S. Senate when he received more votes than any statewide elected official in Arkansas history.
This year's ACA Summit is taking place March 13-15 at the Grand Hyatt in downtown Washington, D.C. The event is a unique opportunity for the leaders of companies that serve hometown America with advanced communications services to exchange public policy ideas with the Obama Administration, Capitol Hill lawmakers and senior FCC officials.
The Summit is most important forum nationally for honoring the critical role performed by independent cable operators that serve remote regions of the country with world-class voice, video and broadband Internet services.
The theme for this year's show is "Geared Up For Progress," underscoring ACA's firm commitment to finding consensus that leads to progress on many critical issues, especially retransmission consent, broadband deployment and access to content on fair and reasonable terms.
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