Republican Congressman Cliff Stearns called the United States' standing in global broadband deployment and speeds "embarrassing" during a discussion today at an event sponsored by LightSquared and the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation.
"It's really embarrassing that we have allowed this to occur," Stearns said, citing a report that ranked the United States 18th in the world in terms of the availability and speeds of broadband Internet services.
The Florida lawmaker, who serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, went on to share his thoughts on how to fix the gap, from beefing up staff at the FCC to getting an accurate read on the nation's spectrum assets.
The backload of outstanding items at the FCC is "alarming," he said, calling for "less lawyers and more engineers" at the agency to help it speed up its processes.
When pressed on whether the government should conduct an inventory of its spectrum assets before moving ahead with new auctions of broadcast television spectrum, Stearns said: "The sooner the better."
"The inventory, in my humble opinion, is the first way to start," he said. "If you don't know what's in the closet ... how do you know what's on the shelf?"
Some have argued conducting an inventory before new auctions take place would unnecessarily delay the sale of new spectrum to the wireless industry.
Stearns also touched on dueling pieces of legislation on incentive auctions and the D-block released separately in the House yesterday by Democrats and Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
The Republican's Jumpstarting Opportunity with Broadband Spectrum (JOBS) Act is a "compromise" on the D-block, he said. Both the Democrat and Republican proposals would allocate, instead of auction, D-block spectrum for a national mobile broadband network for first responders and allow the FCC to move forward with its planned auctions of television airwaves.
The draft bills circulating in Congress show the D-block and broadcast auctions still have traction after recent setbacks.
Industry players had expected to see the D-block legislation pass before the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in September, but lawmakers were unable to agree on a bill. The spectrum auction legislation was expected to be part of a deficit reduction plan hashed out by a special committee, but the proposal lost ground when the super committee failed to come to an agreement.