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Walden Talks Broadband, Cybersecurity, Data Privacy on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators”


Washington, DC – Energy and Commerce Committee Republican Leader Greg Walden (R-OR) joined C-SPAN’s “The Communicators” with host Peter Slen and The Hill’s Chris Mills Rodrigo to discuss technology issues including closing the digital divide, ensuring U.S. leadership in 5G and emerging technologies, and more.

You can watch the full interview here and read a few highlights below.

On his committee work in telecommunications

“Together, the committee did great work opening up spectrum and positioning the United States to have the spectrum when it needed it to advance new technologies as they’ve come along. I remember going back to when we passed some of these laws. There were parts of the band that nobody thought had value that today has the highest value real estate. And so as these young American minds develop new technologies and innovation, I think making sure they have access to spectrum is kind of like ‘build it and they will come.’ […] I think implementing the 9/11 commission’s final recommendations to create FirstNet and to fund it, make that spectrum available was really important for our public safety officials and the security of our country. […] We got through the whole broadcast transitions, certainly in terms of the repack, pretty successfully. There’s more we’ve worked on, but those are some of the highlights.”

 On recent Twitter hacks and their broader implications on cybersecurity

“If it can happen to Barack Obama, among others, it can happen to any American, anywhere, anytime. I think we’ve become aware of that. We know there are bad actors out there – some may be kids in a basement, others may be Russian intelligence services as you see those news reports today as well that they’ve been hacking into our COVID scientists and companies which is really despicable. We know this goes on – it goes on by the Chinese; it goes on by the Russians; it goes on by the Iranians and the North Koreans. […] It also speaks to the importance of making sure our telecommunications networks are as safe and secure as possible […] and that each of us does things to secure our own systems. I think it was the WannaCry attack was that part of the problem in some healthcare organizations was that they hadn’t provided the updates to I think it was Windows ’95. […] It was just vulnerabilities in the system – things that could have been patched, should have been patched, weren’t patched. It’s a big, long array of issues when it comes to cybersecurity, but the threats are real. We’re all vulnerable, and we need to do more about it.”

On the USA Telecommunications Act, Open RAN Network Technology to help the U.S. lead in 5G

“The bottom line is it allows other entrepreneurs to work on this platform and continue to develop new systems, basically. It’s not just the hard-wired piece of equipment, if you will. And I think it allows us to have more flexibility, more innovators, and more ability to make sure that it’s dynamic, and that we can develop a communications network and enhance and improve it all the time. As opposed to having a piece of hardware in place that the owner can send you an update, shall we say, and that update might not be what you want in that system but there you are, you’re locked in. I think the ORAN concept makes a lot of sense going forward. I’m glad we moved that legislation (USA Telecommunications Act) unanimously out of the committee, and I hope to see it become law.”

On China and Huawei

“Coming out of the ’08 meltdown economically around the world, that’s when China really put its muscle behind Huawei because everything over there is a state-owned enterprise one way or another that flows back into their whole military structure and funding. They have the ability to come in, they’re very bright, they steal the technology or come up with it themselves, and then they undercut the market. I have people in my district say ‘Well yeah, but it’s good equipment and it works well and it’s reasonably priced.’ Well, what a great way to infiltrate. I think going forward, the extent that we can get that equipment out of the systems, and I would say not only compete on 5G but leapfrog to whatever we call the next generation – 6G – is where we need to focus because where America’s always had an advantage is when we’ve been able to lead in the innovation of the next technology. If we lose that edge, then we’re beholden to somebody else. And right now, that somebody else is basically China. […] That’s a bad place for America and free societies to be, is beholden to Chinese equipment and everything that goes along with that. […] I want us to be in the lead.”

On the status of a federal data privacy standard

“Privacy would have been something that Senator Wicker and I would have focused on early on. We talked about it a lot, but of course we lost the Majority and I lost the gavel. We were hoping to get ahead of both the California privacy law taking effect and look at what worked and didn’t work from our perspective and same with GDPR. And you have the whole European issue now as you know on data privacy. America should lead in this space. We should set a strong privacy protection for consumer law on the books. The longer we wait, the more other governments, including the states, let alone foreign governments are going to meander around in this space, and you’re going to have all this patch work of competing requirements. And if America led in this space, as we should, as we should have, then we could help set international standards and protect privacy and protect freedom of speech and really empower our American companies to lean back and say, ‘Hey, I get what you want me to do, but I’m an American company and I’m in violation of American law and so therefore I can’t do this.’ It would empower those executives and those teams to bring our vision of freedom of speech and protection to other areas where that just simply doesn’t exist. So we should have moved forward. I think we’ve had one hearing on privacy in this Congress, and we’re basically at the end of this Congress. We’ve lost two years. Unfortunately you have more and more patch work, it’s pretty hard to go back. At the end of the day, a lot of it has to do with private right of action, the trial bar and all of that. That’s been a stumbling block on autonomous vehicle legislation, which when I was Chairman passed out of the House unanimously. Nothing’s moved in this Congress.”

On his priorities for the next few months as Congress winds down

“I think of a couple really important ones. One, I would argue that in the pandemic COVID-19 environment that we’re all living and doing this show, I think it’s collapsed technology acceptance by about a decade. We’re all doing this now – it would have filtered out over the course of a decade. So you’re seeing collapse of technology and acceptance, and industries that are being demolished along the way in retail and in everything else that is happening overnight. I think you see telehealth really taking off. If you ask Seema Verma at CMS she’ll tell you they had a 1 or 2 percent telehealth in medicare in January – now it’s 28 percent. It should keep going, but we need more connectivity. We need to fund the rip and replace. We need to fund the mapping so we can buildout where there isn’t high speed data available in the country. We have 21 million Americans, including many on tribal lands, that lack access to high-speed communications capabilities. This is going to be essential for health care. It’s going to be essential for learning as states and localities are trying to figure out how are we going to educate our children in a COVID environment. Some may be fine in reopening, some may never be ready to reopen this next school year just because of everything that goes along with that. To just say, ‘Oh by the way, parents, it’s all going to be online. Have a good run of that.’ Well what happens if they don’t have a laptop or the connectivity? So I think we really have to focus on connecting America and then making sure we have secure telecommunications networks.”

On the importance of broadband

“It’s bigger than just an infrastructure issue – it’s an American issue. It’s a connectivity issue. It’s about everything from our education and healthcare to our democracy. In this COVID environment, not to overwork this, but in this COVID environment it’s an economic issue in the sense of I’ve seen more and more people say, ‘I can do work from anywhere? Really? Maybe I’ll go out into a smaller community in a rural area with a great lifestyle, but I have to have bandwidth.’ I was in a little town having these issues and they were cut off, and we had to pay cash for gasoline because the gas station’s internet was down and they couldn’t take credit cards. So we have some work to do.”

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