Why Broadband Is Important and the U.S. Senate Is Not

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation held a hearing here Sept. 16 on "Why Broadband Is Important." Two senators -- Chairman Daniel Inouye and ranking member Ted Stevens -- showed up, although several more briefly drifted in and out.

Unlike most Senate Commerce Committee hearings, empty seats dotted the audience area. One reporter in the sparse media turnout idly worked a crossword puzzle. Other reporters checked their e-mail and took few notes.

Witnesses from AARP, the American Library Association, the American Telemedicine Association and the Communications Workers of America all told Inouye what he wanted hear: Yes, Senator, broadband is important.

Stevens, taking some time off from defending himself against an indictment charging him with failing to report more than $250,000 in gifts, including a major renovation of his vacation home, put on a brief dog and pony show. The senator -- he of the infamously hopeless description of broadband as series of tubes -- held up a large map to illustrate that Alaska doesn't have many roads and agreed, yes, broadband was important.

Stevens' star witness was Gene Peltola, the chairman and CEO of Yukon Kuskokwim Health, who testified by a remote feed from Bethel, Alaska, that, yes, broadband was important.

By the time the 90-minute hearing came to a close, Inouye was the only senator still there. The small crowd had thinned, reporters' eyes had glazed over and the crossword puzzle fan was packed and ready to go.

"This discussion is important," Inouye insisted.

It isn't, particularly two years into Inouye's reign as committee chairman. Public policy regarding broadband has reached far beyond establishing that broadband is important. Lawmakers get it, they just don't do much about it, happy to leave issues like broadband mapping and network neutrality to the FCC (Federal Communications Commission).

Perhaps Inouye can hold a hearing in the next session of Congress entitled "Why Broadband Was Important Before Congress Ignored It."