Today was the confirmation hearing for Geoffrey Starks, the Democratic nominee to replace Commissioner Clyburn at the FCC. Starks is currently serving as an assistant chief in the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau where he works in the Investigations and Hearings Division and the USF Strike Force. He also has experience at the DOJ, with the U.S. Court of Appeals and brings a wealth of experience to a new role at the FCC.
Since his nomination was announced, folks have been curious to hear more about what his background and priorities are; so I am sharing some of his testimony from earlier today below. Additionally, Chairman Thune asked some key questions of Starks regarding the need to coordinate between RUS and the FCC to avoid rural broadband overbuilding. The nominee agreed to the need for coordination and noted “I think it’s essential to coordinate to ensure we don’t have duplication. The dollars are too precious.”
From Starks testimony:
“Growing up in Kansas, with family members scattered around rural America, I am all too aware of the challenges presented for connecting all Americans to mobile and fixed broadband. But the so called “digital divide” is not confined to rural America – there are digital deserts in urban America, too. I will work hard to ensure that we create the right incentives for ubiquitous broadband investment and deployment, and that our universal service funding is efficiently and appropriately spent in the course of securing the deployment objectives you have established. This is a critical challenge to open the door to education, health care and opportunity for all.
“Advancing Telemedicine Opportunities: The issue of telemedicine, in particular, has captured my attention. I think it is essential that we advance broadband telemedicine programs to improve access to quality medical services and health outcomes, especially for those who live in rural areas and places where there aren’t enough practitioners, both general and specialized. Perhaps it is in my blood – as I mentioned, my family members practice medicine in areas where telehealth options are helping everyday Americans: South Dakota, Kansas, Missouri, and Virginia. Telehealth practices are already revolutionizing the way in which doctors can provide care and treatment. For example, the Avera Health ECare system in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Amarillo, Texas, have become leaders in providing teletrauma assessment – enabling doctors to examine emergency patients remotely, and to make real-time medical decisions that cut down life-saving transport minutes for injured patients. In a similar vein, doctors in Kansas and Missouri have made telemedicine an integral part of the fight against the opioid abuse epidemic, helping patients to connect with caregivers when there are no other options. Moreover, telemedicine is already providing critical care to nearly 45% of veterans living in rural communities. But for telemedicine to be a universal reality, citizens and the healthcare providers that serve them need access to affordable broadband connectivity wherever they live and serve. The FCC has a lot to say about that and I look forward to jumping in on this issue with the FCC team and our partners in other parts of government and the private sector that directly affect the health and quality of life of Americans.”
I would say that with those sentiments, the nominated Commissioner is off to a pretty solid start in terms of understanding the needs of rural Americans – and we will do our best to fill in any gaps!