Broadband: With Jessica Rosenworcel
#1556 minutes

The very first live episode of Broadband Conversations focuses on the intersection of women, entrepreneurship, and technology. On this episode, Commissioner Rosenworcel sat down with a live audience and Congresswomen Davids and Finkenauer, two women who are breaking barriers and getting things done on the Small Business Committee, to discuss how women can and should build the next big thing online or open a store on Main Street. Listeners will hear the Congresswomen and the Commissioner cover a lot of ground in this episode, including how women need reliable broadband and access to capital necessary to start businesses and how things like student loan debt can hold female entrepreneurs back.

Transcript: 

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Hey, there. I'm Jessica Rosenworcel, a Commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission. And this is a very special, live episode of broadband conversations. Now, if you know the podcast, then you know this is a podcast where we bring women together to talk about their big ideas.

And that's what we did a couple of weeks ago. I had the pleasure of talking to Congresswomen Sharice Davids and Abby Finkenauer, who are two new members of Congress who sit on the Small Business Committee.

You'll hear in this episode how they've each broken some glass ceilings and how they're each making history, but we also covered a lot of ground, everything from why connectivity matters in the digital age to how women get access to capital and how student load debt can affect that.

You'll also see that the 1990s movie 'Hackers' gets a shout-out. So I hope you enjoy listening to this live episode as much as I did hosting it.

(Applause)

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Welcome to the Wing. We are so excited to be here to get to see this space and to be in front of an audience full of women. So we started this podcast about a year ago because we felt like we should do something to amplify the voices of women in technology and media and innovation, and we are so excited to do this today.

It is our first time doing this live.

(Applause)

MS. ROSENWORCEL: And you are our first audience, and it's even better because we have some really, really dynamic women today. But, first, if you don't know, my name is Jessica Rosenworcel. I am a Commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, and I'm the only woman serving at the Federal Communications Commission.

(Applause)

MS. ROSENWORCEL: I'm the only one there who voted to oppose the rollback of net neutrality.

(Applause)

MS. ROSENWORCEL: But I'm pretty convinced I'm not the only woman who thinks women deserve a bigger space in technology, and that if the future is all about being connected. I just want to see more women in more places. And so we started this podcast, again, to amplify their voices.

And today we have these awesome, awesome Congresswomen, I can't believe that, they're so exciting. This new class of women that are on Capitol Hill are just changing the game. And we've got here today Congresswomen Sharice Davids --

(Applause)

MS. ROSENWORCEL: -- and Abby Finkenauer.

(Applause)

MS. ROSENWORCEL: You can take whichever one you want. I feel like we have to appreciate the millennial pink you're wearing Congresswoman. You're very place-appropriate, millennial pink.

We're going to kick things off, get them started. And I want to start by not introducing you but asking you to give a little back story, how you got to where you are today.

MS. FINKENAUER: All right, I guess I'll start.

So I grew up in a town -- first of all, the district that I represent is Iowa-1, so that is northeastern Iowa. It's 20 counties. It's about a fourth of the State of Iowa, and the town that I grew up in, actually, it's called Sherrill, it has more cows than people.

Oh, my goodness, it's great to see some of our folks from the office. Good to see you. Anyway, I get really excited when I see Iowans in my crowd.

But so, again, I grew up in Sherrill, a town with more cows than people. And I grew up in a family that, you know, on Saturday nights we would all get together and hang out with my grandfather who was a Democrat and a firefighter, and my uncle who is a Republican and a lawyer.

And we'd all have dinner together. And after dinner, it would be the three of us sitting around the kitchen table talking about what was going on in the world. And I was a 10-year-old that asked my parents for Newsweek, so I knew oftentimes what was happening, and was a big part of those conversations.

So I learned two really important lessons during that time. One was, even though I was a young girl I had every right to a seat at the table as the grown men, and, second, was that even though we would disagree, and we would, actually quite a bit, we could still hug each other, say, love you and can't wait to see you next week.

I remember thinking that that's how public policy and discussions should be. So then I ended up being actually a Page in the U.S. House when I was 16, graduated high school early, and was a Page for the Speaker of the Iowa House in 2007.

That's when Democrats actually had complete control of the State of Iowa, the Governor's mansion, state house, state senate, sought groundbreaking legislation that year, one of which was when we added sexual orientation to the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

(Applause)

MS. FINKENAUER: It was essentially a piece of legislation that led to Iowa being one of the first in the nation to legalize same sex marriage. And I was 18 and got to see that. And I remember thinking to myself that, oh okay, this government thing, this policy thing, this is where you can fight for justice, and this is where you can make an impact on your community. And I knew I needed to be around that, but I had no idea I was ever going to run.

After that, I actually ended up working for Vice President Joe Biden on his 2007 campaign. Obviously, the presidential campaign back then didn't work out so well for his. He ended up being VP and that worked out well. So that was an exciting them.

And then after that, I went to Drake and then was a legislative assistant in the Iowa House for a couple of years. After that, I ended up, all of a sudden, looking at a statehouse seat where I grew up around. And I was 25 at the time, and the guy who had held that statehouse seat was somebody who actually held that the year I was born, and he was leaving to run for Congress, actually the congressional seat I sit in now.

But he didn't win the congressional seat, a Republican won that time. I ended up winning the statehouse seat. I was in the statehouse for four years, or for actually, beginning of my third year. And I remember kind of looking around and thinking, this is the beginning of 2017, that what I was seeing in our state in our country, this wasn't how we treat people and we're better than this.

And I decided to run for Congress, ended up winning that seat, and now I'm happy to sit with Congresswoman Davids on a lot of our committees, like T&I and Small Business.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: I just want to point out to you one of the youngest ever congresswoman elected to Congress, is that right?

MS. FINKENAUER: Yes. I was known for the first couple months as the other 29-year-old. I'm 30 now and I will take all the years I can get. And, also, I'm happy to be one of the first women ever elected to Congress in the State of Iowa, myself and Cindy Axne.

(Applause)

MS. FINKENAUER: And joined by another first. This, right here, is one of the first woman, who's a Native American, elected to Congress. So there's a whole lot of firsts up here.

(Applause)

MS. DAVIDS: I'm Sharice Davids. I represent the Kansas Third Congressional District, which is the Kansas City Metro Area. So I was raised by a single mom, who served in the Army for 20 years. That's how a person who is Ho-Chunk, a tribe in Wisconsin, ends up in Kansas.

She retired while she was stationed at Fort Leavenworth, not in. And, you know, she did all the things that a strong woman does. She raised three kids, she worked really hard, she did a ton of stuff to try to make sure that I was able to thrive, and make mistakes, and have autonomy.

So I give all the credit to my mom for working real hard to make sure that I was able to do what I'm doing today and all the other things that I've done. I've done a lot of different things.

So I'm a first-generation college student. It took me four years to get an associate's degree at Johnson County Community College, which is in the district that I now represent. Four years later, I got my bachelor's degree at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, and managed to get into Cornell for law school.

And, you know, going to Cornell was the first time that I saw, like, true socioeconomic privilege in my life. And what blew my mind was that I didn't even realize that I had not seen socioeconomic privilege in my life.

It was the first time I met people who came from families that could afford to pay the tuition at Cornell Law School, which was very expensive. Great school, very expensive tuition. And I didn't begrudge anybody that, but it really -- I couldn't conceptualize what it would be like if my mom could afford to pay for my tuition and my living expenses, and my wisdom teeth which I also had to take care of. It's part of my student loans -- no.

So when I got done at Cornell, it was the first time also that I had the chance to focus on academics. Before that, all the eight years that it took me to get through my associate and my bachelor degree, I worked the whole time.

I started a small business, which we can -- I would like to talk about it, actually.

I started a small car dealership, which means I was a used car salesperson --

(Laughter)

MS. ROSENWORCEL: And now you're in Congress.

MS. DAVIDS: -- and now I'm a member of Congress. I don't know if I'm getting better or --

(Laughter)

MS. DAVIDS: I think things are better, I think things are better.

So when I got done at law school, I went back home to Kansas. I got a job at a large law firm, one that had a Kansas City office. I was doing mergers and acquisitions and financing, like clearly on the path to changing the world. Right?

But I realized pretty quickly that that was not what I -- like how I was going to feel like I was making a difference. But I got the chance to work on some tribal-level financing, and I had this epiphany about how economic development should be working in Native communities. And so eventually I ended up living and working on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which is in South Dakota.

That was like a really interesting experience for a lot of reasons. But one of the things I realized, because I had to work with the federal government so much, was that nobody knows how the federal government works. And I'm not talking about Native communities. People don't know how the federal government works, across the board, in all kinds of communities.

And so it made me want to be a White House Fellow. A couple of times I've made the mistake of saying, and then I decided to be a White House Fellow. It doesn't work that way, like thousands of people apply.

I used to say stuff, which I think women do a lot, like, oh, I slipped through the cracks, or I managed to get into Cornell.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: I was so lucky, as if hard work didn't play a role. Right?

MS. DAVIDS: Yes, yes. So I was both lucky and I worked -- I worked hard.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: You know, you're in front of an FCC commissioner. We do stuff with that language on the air.

(Laughter)

MS. DAVIDS: But one of the reasons that I think that I was selected was because I talked a lot of about how we need different people in the room when policy is being created. And the White House Fellows Program gives people an opportunity to be at the highest level of the federal government, because you spend a year with a cabinet-level official.

So I was selected to serve at the end of the Obama Administration and the beginning of the current administration. I saw firsthand the difference that literally one voice in a roomful of people can make, if it's a different experience.

And that came in lots of different forms. Sometimes it was that, you know, nobody in the room was from the Midwest or had never lived in a rural area, or the number of people that I was working with who couldn't conceptualize it the other way around, like people can't afford to buy things.

That was like it. It just blew my mind, how different we could make the conversation with just a few different questions, sparking people to think about things in a different way than they had before. And when I got done with the fellowship, I went back home to Kansas and looked around and saw a couple of things.

One, the representative that I replaced was not doing a good job, which is why I replaced him. But the other thing I saw was that there were no women in the race to replace the representative that we had. And I just found that to be unacceptable.

Of course, I did -- like the thing that was going to get me here, which was I started trying to get other people to run, all the few different women. I was calling, hey, you know, I think you'd be great; jump in the race and I will -- I've never helped on a campaign before, but I'll be there for you.

And then I realized, like, wait a minute, if I'm asking the question, who's going to do something, then I probably need to think about how I can be part of the solution to that. So I'm a lawyer, I've got federal experience. There's all these different reasons that make me more -- just as qualified or more qualified than any of the other five men that were in the race at the time.

So I got in the race. Kansas did a great job this year. I got elected. It's amazing to be able to say that we sent the first two Native American women to Congress, the first out-member of the LGBQT community to represent Kansas.

And then we also elected this year the first two out -- Susan Ruiz and Brandon Woodard are part of the LGBQT community, and they're serving in the Kansas State House now. And then we elected Laura Kelly as our governor. She beat Chris Kobach.

(Applause)

MS. DAVIDS: And so I think that so many of us, I mean, we were sitting back there talking about, what is this like. And I think it is still surreal to imagine that we were part of this history-making class. We're really, literally just like this-big-of-a-part of that.

You know, my name was on all these signs, but really it was the tons of people who were knocking on doors and making phone calls and doing all of the -- there were people who were treating it like it was a full-time job, showing up to our office to volunteer or to canvass or to make phone calls.

And we got to be a part of that. It's pretty amazing.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Gosh, I love that. It's so much 'firsts' right up here. It's so inspiring. And also just the idea that there are problems out there in the world and we're not going to wait for other people to solve them.

So I'm going to switch gears and move towards technology. One of our problems in the United States is figuring out how to bring everyone into the digital age. And you both come from communities that are rural, in part. They're really at greatest risk of being left behind.

And at FCC we always talk about the millions and millions of households who have no broadband access. But when we talk about it in Washington, that's one thing, and I'm wondering what it looks like on the ground in Iowa, in your district, and in Kansas, in your district.

MS. FINKENAUER: So I am the chairwoman on the Small Business Subcommittee of Rural Development, Agriculture, Trade and Entrepreneurship. So all of those show up in a really big way in Iowa, especially right now. And we've been having a lot of conversations with folks in rural Iowa, in particular about the idea that in Iowa, I mean, we've got to figure out a couple of things.

But one of which is how do we get people to stop leaving Iowa, and also how do we get them to want to come back home. And a big part of that is being able to come back home, start small businesses in the small communities where they grew up, and be able to thrive.

I mean, right now, and correct me if I'm wrong here, but I believe we're losing -- is it 7 -- 70 billion dollars a -- 70 million dollars a year because of the lack of (unintelligible) activity in certain areas in our country. And we've got to do a heck of a lot better, and that's very specifically in my district.

I've talked to farmers who rely on precision ag, some of which are even going to libraries to be able to get up-to-date on what they need to be following, or, you know, what's happening next week. It's huge. And so these are things that we have to be dealing with. And, again, we've heard all over the district, and would be happy to talk about it more later, as well.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: You mentioned precision agriculture. And when we think about broadband and connectivity, we think about dudes in hoodies somewhere who are coding. We don't realize the ability to take that connectivity and bring it to rural America and how it can really change the economy.

By making us more efficient with scarce resources, like how we water the soil, how much nitrogen we put in it, and there is so much that this can change in rural communities. And we're got to figure out how to get it there.

MS. DAVIDS: It's interesting because the third district in Kansas has Wyandotte County, which has Kansas City, Kansas, which is its own rich -- I mean, most people are actually thinking of Kansas City, Missouri when they think of Kansas City.

But Kansas City, Kansas has its own like, like, unique rich history as a city. So we have kind of an urban core in the third district. And then Johnson County is the suburbs, so it's the suburbs of Kansas City. If you went to -- I'm not going to name any other cities because no city compares, or no suburb is comparative.

But, you know, I mean, it's your kind of standard suburb, the outskirts of Johnson County and Wyandotte County both start to look pretty rural and maybe what picture might be picturing when they think of Kansas.

And then we've got a little piece of Miami County, where it really starts to -- that's where we're starting to see the farmers and that sort of thing, which means that our district has the opportunity, I think, to kind of bridge that.

We often talk about rural broadband and we talk about the urban need in cities that have, you know, I mean, there's tons of places where it's a -- it's a densely populated city. It's an urban area, but that's not -- that doesn't mean that everybody there has access to the Internet.

It doesn't mean that everybody has access to broadband, either in schools, workplaces. Sometimes even the libraries are even struggling. And so I think that one of the things we have an opportunity to do is make sure that we're thinking as comprehensively as possible about the connection between the rural broadband opportunities and the suburban and urban broadband opportunities.

One of the things that I feel like I would be remiss if I didn't talk about this a little bit is that during my time in South Dakota, which was rural, I mean, I was like 90 minutes from the nearest Walmart.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: That's as good of a measure of rural as any, really.

MS. DAVIDS: Well, I have not really ever thought of myself as like a person who goes to Walmart a whole bunch, but I found myself thinking, like, there's got to be something I've got to get, because I was so far away that I was just like pens, or something? No.

So in that area there were tons of people where if we had better broadband access would have 9-1-1 access. So it is as much about the economic opportunities for a lot of communities as it is about literally, like, saving lives in other communities.

And so that's one of the things I think I have felt very encouraged by when I got here, is that people aren't talking about broadband and Internet access anymore as if it's a luxury. It is part of our infrastructure and should be thought of as such.

And I think that is something I felt really good about because when I was living out in South Dakota and even before that, when I was doing economic development work when I was in Kansas City, people weren't thinking about it in those terms.

People were talking about it as, like, well, oh, that would be great if they had access to the Internet. And it's, like, that's not where we're at anymore. And for Congress to know that is, like, very significant.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Absolutely. Now, Congresswoman Finkenauer, I know that you serve on the Rural Broadband Task Force. So tell me what's that all about.

MS. FINKENAUER: Yes. We're actively trying to figure out, you know, how do we make sure that it doesn't matter where you live in this country that you're able to have connectivity and something that's reliable. And so, you know, making sure that we're coming up with proposals to have the right data.

I mean, if you follow this at all --

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Absolutely.

MS. FINKENAUER: -- broadband, it's how data is collected right now. It's not necessarily accurate. We've got a town, actually, specifically, in my district; it's called Brandon. It' a small town. And they right now are trying to apply for grants to get connectivity, but aren't qualified for it because there is one house in the block that has it. So now it looks as though the entire town does. And that shouldn't be that way.

And so we've got work to do on that end to make sure that we have correct maps here so that we know where to start. And that, again, is the crux of the problem and something that Democrats and Republicans can figure out ways to get together on.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, my gosh, I cosign all of that. It's so foundational. We're never going to manage a problem if we don't measure it accurately. And, you know, it's one of those issues, too, I feel like there's consensus on both sides of the aisle that we have to fix this.

So I have this optimism that we're going to find a way.

MS. FINKENAUER: So speaking of making sure that we have access and that it's accurate, one of the things that I had a conversation just recently with some folks about is especially in some of the more rural parts. So, like, I was just talking to some folks out in Spring Hill, which is like trending toward more the rural part of the district, and Gardner.

And those places, with the census coming up and wanting to make sure that, you know, if people are going to be able to access the Internet to answer census questions, like making sure that we have broadband availability in those areas is going to be huge for making sure that --

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Absolutely.

MS. FINKENAUER: -- states that -- you know, we don't know what the population -- we don't truly know what the population gains or losses are going to look like in all the different states. And if we aren't really focusing on getting accurate data with the census, then, like, there are plenty of communities that will be -- that will suffer for it.

So that's one of the other areas that I think, when we're thinking about broadband access we're talking about economic development, and how we start businesses and that sort of thing. And more businesses will start if we have better access to information about how many people live in the community, what does the market look like.

That's why I was, like, flailing my arms around.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: That's okay. It's a podcast. No one can see you flail your arms.

MS. DAVIDS: She wasn't flailing her arms.

(Laughter)

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yes. She was the picture of grace.

You are both on the Small Business Committee, and you mentioned this earlier. I've love for you to talk about small businesswomen and technology because I think those three things should be related.

MS. FINKENAUER: It's huge. So and, again, (unintelligible) subcommittee has actually allowed me to bring a lot of Iowans to Washington, which has been a huge honor, because (unintelligible) was to make sure that Iowans were actually being heard through of the chaos that can happen here.

And, luckily, we had somebody come visit in the first couple of months or so. Her name is Afton. She's a young woman, entrepreneur and (unintelligible) Iowa. And she's somebody who started as a small business, selling flowers.

She makes these really cool, realistic flowers that she actually sells all across the world. And she was able to talk about some of the challenges of starting a business and also some of the things relating to connectivity and how, you now, it's -- if it's not reliable, she's literally losing dollars.

And she's right now able to be in a small town in Iowa, but if we're not able, again, make sure that this is reliable and connected, you know, that raises questions down the line.

But then I also talked to her about some of the other barriers that women often face starting businesses. Part of it is capital. You know, women have less access to capital and it's something we've been trying to deal with on the Committee itself.

And then also when it comes to childcare, when it comes to paid leave, when it comes to retirement and you're thinking of starting a small business, when it comes to paying off your student loans, I mean, you name it; there's a lot that we're dealing with here. So that's one of the biggest (unintelligence) I think we've had with small business, is being able to cover a lot of those different topics that people wouldn't have necessarily thought had to do with it at all.

But it is a huge barrier for women and something that we're trying to tackle and trying to do it. I know the joke is in the Small Business Committee, that we use the word non-partisan. I mean, I don't know; what do you think. Ten times a committee, at least, sometimes?

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Only ten?

MS. FINKENAUER: Yes, only ten. But there are some interesting things we can be doing, especially with a divided Washington right now, where you have a Democratic House, a Republican Senate, Republican administration and White House, and trying to figure out what can we actually move forward in the next year-and-a-half; and then what are some of the bigger ideas we can actually start having, as well, that maybe we could get through the Senate.

But we should be having those conversations. And, again, there's a lot to be talking about.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yes. So one of the things -- you know, if you come into my office, one of the things that I have kind of sitting on the little, like, table in my office is a report that the Kansas City Fed did. And it's about small businesses.

MS. DAVIDS: So I was thinking Kansas City has, like, entrepreneurship (unintelligible) DNA of the place. We have this thriving entrepreneurial community there and ecosystem that we're building. And the Kansas City Fed Report was amazing was because it highlighted that, first of all, black women are the fastest growing demographic in small business and entrepreneurships and start-ups.

And in Kansas City, in the Kansas City area we have like one of the highest percentages, first or second in the county. And that means that I get to participate and learn at times from what is a pretty diverse entrepreneurial community there.

And not that long ago I got the chance to participate in a panel called Women Who Mean Business. And Adrian Haynes, who started the Multi-Cultural Business Council, they have meetings all across the metro area in Kansas City. She's a lawyer. She's kind of an all-around bad-ass. I'm just going to say it.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: I give you permission.

MS. DAVIDS: Okay. But she's constantly bringing together groups of people to have a conversation about why do you think that access to capital is so much harder for women or women of color or, like, people of color in general.

And one of the things that some of the entrepreneurs that I had a chance to meet because of the work that Adrian is doing is that ends of happening is people think of that guy in the hoodie, when what they should be thinking about is people like Carlanda McKinney, who started -- it's evolving and pivoting into other areas.

But when I met her she was doing a personalized, customized bra that, with an app that would scan you. And she started trying to find funding for this company, she's in rooms, there's only men. And they're like, why would you spend a bunch of money on a personalized bra when --

(Laughter)

MS. DAVIDS: -- when you go to Target. And she was like, are you married? And, you know, she had all these specifics, like, no, on average women own 15 bras and they use two, or something. And everybody is like, hmmmm.

(Laughter)

MS. DAVIDS: And they just, like, could not conceptualize that there would be a market for this kind of product. And she was like, the fact that I'm constantly trying to access capital through the "usual means," and I'm putting that in quotes because the podcast can't see me. But the quote-unquote, usual means, which is going to a bank, which I going to -- in some cases like venture capital, angel investors, that sort of thing.

And it's only very recently that we're starting to see that people are specifically noticing that, hey, there's tons of women with great ideas, there's tons of people from communities that are not out of Harvard, in a hoodie.

And I think that what we're seeing on the Small Business Committee is constantly having conversations about what does access to capital look like, and what kind of problems can people who have a diverse set of experiences bring to, especially around technology, whether it's new kinds of apps, whether it's recognizing these gaping holes that when you're in a homogenous room of people it's hard to see those sometimes.

And I think the very first meeting we had was about access to capital. And we were talking with veteran-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, women-veteran-owned businesses. I mean, the work that we get to do on the Small Business Committee is exactly what Abby was talking about, Congresswoman Finkenauer.

How do we make sure that when we're building out our policy that we're listening to a wide variety of experiences around -- well, can we stop making it seem like it's a good thing that somebody started a business on credit card debt? Because that's not a good thing.

We treat it as if it's something to be highlighted. And there was a woman who was talking to our Committee, earlier this week, about how we cannot celebrate that. She should have access to every kind of avenue of capital that everybody else does. But, instead, people are like, oh, you've got to pick yourself up by your bootstraps.

And that's not how we have a thriving economy and a thriving start-up community and a thriving entrepreneurial community. It's by making sure that we're truly providing avenues to access capital.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: And, you know, it's not just credit card debt. Its student loans in this country. Does that not --

MS. DAVIDS: That's so huge, yes.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Does that come up when you talk about these issues in --

MS. FINKENAUER: All the time. Like Congresswoman Davids, I'm also -- yes.

So I'm also a first generation college graduate who still is paying off about 20k of student loans. I know, comparably, actually that's not terrible compared to some of the folks.

Sharice is making a funny face right now. How much do you have?

MS. DAVIDS:

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, you went to law school. A lot of it is from law school?

MS. DAVIDS: Yes. It's a lot I'm looking at.

MS. FINKENAUER: No, you don't have to. But it sounds like more that 20K.

MS. DAVIDS: It's in my financial disclosures. It's over a hundred thousand dollars.

MS. FINKENAUER: Oh, yes. We were in that article together about being the wealthy members of Congress.

(Simultaneous talking)

MS. DAVIDS: I consider myself to be broke, not poor, I guess.

(Laughter)

MS. FINKENAUER: Or the least wealthy. Anyway, student loan debt, yes, it's a huge issue. In fact, yesterday I introduced a bill that had to do with the colleges that are for-profit universities that have taken advantage of folks.

Specifically in my district, there are 600 people in my district right now who have fallen prey to a for-profit university that promised a lot that and then they closed before graduation, where some folks, including one of our veterans that I had actually at a press conference on Monday, and he's a guy who did everything right.

He kept coming back, doing what he was supposed to do, trying to do it right, and was taken advantage of. And that shouldn't be happening. And, you know, there's already a rule by the Department of Education that those federal student loans then should be cancelled and they should be going after them, those for-profit universities.

And, unfortunately, the Trump Administration and Betsy Devos are not following through on that, so we're trying to codify it to make sure that folks weren't taken advantage of. And we were able to ask about this, in particular about what does that mean for folks who, again, try to do it all right and then to have that debt taken away when, again, you can't give them back their time. But they were defrauded, and it's wrong.

What does that mean? And we had, actually, veterans testifying before a number of committees who said, you know, you can take that next step, starting a business, you can do so much with it. And that stuff that we need to be talking about right now, in general, just the cost of higher education, it shouldn't matter which family you were born into or what district you live it; you should be able to go to college and not live for years in debt for it.

And that's stuff that we've got to continue to work on and continue to have those conversations because there's a lot of work we have to do. And there's a lot of ideas out there, and I'm glad we're having them because if we don't solve this, and it's going to be this type of congress where Sharice and I sitting here, who are first generation college graduates, who are paying off a debt, that have to be part of that conversation, and in the room. Thank goodness.

MS. DAVIDS: So we just had a student loan at roundtable at Johnson County Community College, where I graduated from, and one of the panelists said, I graduated from school with a mortgage and no home to show for it. And I just remember when he said it, I was like, ah, I mean, I wasn't ready for that (unintelligible).

And it's true, like people are graduating from school, and it's like the first thing you think about when you graduate and you reach that milestone, the first thing you think about should not be, okay, now what job do I have to find to pay these student loans.

And like so many people are in that spot, and then a bunch of people -- I cosigned on that bill. I think we have a thousand people in our district who had a similar -- at College (phonetic), which is a for-profit university that closed.

And the fact that, like, at random you can have two members with that many people in their districts, like, that same kind of problem where people have been taken advantage of --

MS. FINKENAUER: It's 158,000 right now in the entire country, who are sitting there qualifying for this help and are being ignored. That's why we have that bill.

MS. DAVIDS: So I think that being able to sponsor that kind of legislation, and even knowing that that kind of problem exists, that comes from the new Congress that's here now. And then the only other thing I would say is that one of the things that we have seen, and I try to mention every time I get the chance, is that I want to make sure that we're setting things up in a way that if what you want to do is go to college, awesome.

Let's figure out ways to support people in furthering their education if what they're going to do is go to community college, if what they're going to do is go to a four-year university, if they're going to go into a professional trade, or whatever, because all of those things are vitally important to our society.

And, you know, a liberal arts degree, an engineering degree, a welding -- you know, being a welder, knowing how to build a house, like, these things are all vitally important to our society. And I have think we have to make sure that we're acknowledging that and that we're not, not setting up a system that makes it seem like if you are not going to a four-year degree, to get a bachelor's, then you're doing something wrong, because I don't believe that's the case.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: And so many professions right now, whether or not you need that degree, require digital skill. I mean, 80 percent of our jobs right now need some level of facility with digital technology. And so we're going to have to figure out how to connect all those people in all those places, and then provide pathways, whatever it is, whatever opportunity they want.

MS. FINKENAUER: I'm glad you mentioned that. One of the things that -- and I bet you guys have some of this, too. Kansas City, Kansas Community College has like amazing technical and trade program. And I went and (unintelligible).

So people who were learning how to weld and people who were doing machine work and kinds of -- it is very, very technical and it requires a skill set that I think people don't often think about. So I'm glad you brought that up because, you know, the technology and the evolution of all of this stuff, it's impacting everything.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: And we also want to make sure that the community of people who create those technologies reflect the diversity of the country --

MS. FINKENAUER: Absolutely.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: -- because there's a huge economy out there that we are missing if we are just allowing most of us to be consumers and only a few of us to be creators.

So if anyone has any questions, we're going to take them from you. We've got two first-of-their-kind congresswomen here. So you just raise your hand and let us go. Otherwise, I'm going to keep going.

Before you go, I'm going to make you say something, which is, I want to know what the last thing you did on the Internet was, before you asked this question.

SPEAKER: The last thing I did on the Internet is I pulled up the bill from Vermont, the promoting remote workers and remote work arrangements bills. My parents --

MS. ROSENWORCEL: We are so in Washington, that's just like --

(Laughter)

MS. ROSENWORCEL: -- thing you could do. But credit, lots of credit there.

SPEAKER: One last question. I also tweeted a couple of times.

So my question for both of you, congresswomen, first of all thank you for representing people who haven't had a voice, including people, openly, who have a lot of debt and who have not come from backgrounds that have everything sort of laid out for them and taken care of for them.

Vermont recently passed in 2018 a bill on promoting workers moving to the area, touting their broadband connectivity and offering grants up to $10,000 for people who are willing to move to Vermont and telework from the state.

They've also been one of the highest moved-to states in the last year or two. So I was wondering if anything is in the works like that in Iowa or in Kansas? And then, also, one side note, if it doesn't benefit current residents.

My stepfather, who has been teleworking for years from Vermont, won't benefit, and my parents are selling the house right now because Vermont is not economically viable anymore. How can you protect local jobs as well, when you're encouraging people to move to the area?

MS. FINKENAUER: Thank you so much. That's really interesting and something to absolutely, you know, look into and study more. One of the things we're doing, and, again, I said this in the beginning, with the Rural Development, Agriculture, Trade, and Entrepreneurship sub-committee. If I get it next year I told them I want to add the word (unintelligible) and just call it the Great Subcommittee instead. It's a mouthful.

Anyway, my big purpose on that, and honestly, almost every day that I'm here again is figuring out ways to -- how do you keep Iowans in Iowa and how do you bring them back home.

So one of the things that I've been talking about, actually quite a bit, in my district and also with my team, trying to figure out how do we do this right, when it comes to student loan debt, in particular, something I worked on in the statehouse and had a bill on, but, unfortunately, you know, we do not have control of the statehouse.

So we at least were able to have the conversation, which is great, but I remember thinking at the time, wow, it would be great to have somebody on the federal level I could talk to about this. So now here we are.

And it's an idea where when we're talking about student loan debt forgiveness, one thing we know is that, you know, if you keep people in a certain area for -- you incentivize them to live in an area for over eight years, this is what Vermont, I'm sure, models this after, they stay. They buy houses, they raise their family.

And so how can we reflect that in Iowa. And, you know, the thought is if we're going to talk about debt forgiveness, let's do it in places where we need folks to move. And so looking at areas where populations have remained steady or have lost populations over the years and start there.

Obviously, Iowa would benefit, and that's exciting. But we also -- that could be even something that's viable to get folks to want to move back to Iowa, to be able to, we've got to figure out our connectivity issue.

And so there's a lot that goes into this and that's one of the ideas right now that we're talking about, just trying to be creative about how do we deal with some of the issues in ways that make sense all across our country.

That's interesting about Vermont and something that we could, you know, watch and check out more, too. Thanks.

MS. DAVIDS: The first thing that I'd say that we did to encourage people to move to Kansas is make sure that Chris Kobach wasn't our governor. So we elected --

(Applause)

MS. DAVIDS: But in all seriousness, we elected Laura Kelly.

So I think that's a really interesting question in part because with the census coming up I'm really curious to see what's happening across Kansas. And so because I represent the third district, I often am like, just so everyone knows, I don't have an in-depth knowledge of the entirety of the state.

The area that I represent is actually growing very quickly. Some of the areas in Johnson County are growing at 100 or 150 people per month, which is a lot. And the little bit that I do know is that it is having a massive impact in our rural areas on, you know, limited resources.

There are fewer people there to make use of you name it, whether it's the schools, the shops. So what's ending up happening is the district that I'm in, our population is swelling and then the rest of the state is seeing a reduction.

And, you know, there are a lot of things that I've been supportive of. Of course, broadband access is one of them, but also trying to make sure that in whatever ways I can that I'm supporting our agricultural communities, that I'm supporting --

You know, people often think about -- like there's actually a lot of home health folks that are small businesses that are popping up around Kansas (unintelligible) stuff that's popping up around Kansas. And people are trying to get creative and figure out ways to offer services.

One of the things that happens when you're in a rural community, you're kind of forced to do a lot of coalition building because you don't want to be reinventing the wheel and you also don't want to be duplicating services.

And so we, like -- as the person who represents an area of Kansas that's growing very quickly, I'm constantly doing outreach and trying to figure out ways, like, okay, what can I do and what policies can I support. And this is where I have the opportunity to do some bipartisan work that will benefit the entire state.

So just in terms of, like, actual approaches, I haven't seen -- I think a lot of that stuff on the state level, and I haven't seen us doing a ton of -- it remains to be seen what Laura Kelly is going to do as our governor.

I think one of the things we could do that would make people want to live in Kansas is extend Medicaid. And so we're working on that. And at the federal level we can incentivize that.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: So I'm going to ask the final questions. I asked you what was the last thing you did on the Internet. But now I want to ask you two, what was the first thing they did on the Internet?

MS. FINKENAUER: It sounded like ummmmm.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: That's good, that's impressive.

MS. DAVIDS: It is.

MS. FINKENAUER: I did that, and then I think I -- maybe was 8 or so? And this is really funny and I can't believe I remember this. But I went to WhiteHouseKids.org --

(Laughter)

MS. ROSENWORCEL: She knew where she was going early.

MS. FINKENAUER: The Clintons were in the White House, and there was a saying where you could write to their cat, Socks. Do you remember this? I wrote to Socks on the website and then Socks sent me a picture in the mail with his little paw on there and a nice little note.

So that was, honestly, one of my first memories of the Internet was going to Whitehousekids.org.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: That is awesome.

MS. DAVIDS: Wow. I was thinking earlier, like I'm a full ten years older than the youngest people in Congress. And I'm pretty young, I think. I'm pretty young.

So I went to DeVry for a little bit because I thought I wanted to do computers. I don't know what I thought, I don't know what that meant. But I was like, I was 19, and the dot-com stuff was really going on.

But I remember, I was in high school, did they have Hackers?

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Were you like, I want to do that?

MS. DAVIDS: Yes. But was Hackers the one with -- I do not remember this.

So I remember watching that movie and being like, oh. And we had a computer and we had an AOL thing. And I was like constantly trying to figure out like -- I remember like wanting to figure out, like, how does this thing work, and like somehow managing to get -- and I messed up my cousin's computer because I somehow managed to get into the actual, like DOS part of it.

I don't know how old I was at that point, and then I mostly got into the chat rooms.

(Simultaneously speaking)

MS. ROSENWORCEL: It's like the history of the Internet right here.

Now I just want to go a little bit higher and be a little lofty, which is appropriate for Congresswoman. What do you want the future of the Internet and digital life to look like?

MS. FINKENAUER: Again, I think this goes back to what I have kept talking about, where it shouldn't matter where you live in this country, you should be able to have access, again, not just to connectivity but reliability. And that's the other thing, you know, just making sure that, you know, we can make the -- opportunities are everywhere in this country and not just in our bigger cities; and making sure that no part of our country is ignored or no communities are ignored.

MS. DAVIDS: It's essentially what you were saying. The thing that I think, and not just with technology and the Internet, but all of our infrastructure, is that in the future what I would like to see is an infrastructure system, an Internet system, technology environment that has been designed to be equitable and inclusive as the intension to make it not that.

That's what I want to see in the future. I want a system that's designed to be equitable and inclusive. So I don't have a specific thing that I want to happen. But if that's the intention behind the design of the system, then all of our, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren will be much better off or society will be better off.

But that's the thing that I like. And part of why I feel like it's worth it to do this kind of job, why I think it's worth it to be a part of the Federal Government, even when sometimes that's really hard because we have the opportunity to build that intention into all of these systems because for a long time it wasn't there.

For a long time people like me, people like a lot of folks in this room, we were not part of that intention, and now we get to.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: That is so exciting. Now I want everyone to thank them for coming today.

(Applause)

MS. ROSENWORCEL: How exciting is it to have women like this represent us in Congress. I am thrilled that you're here. I'm thrilled that you're doing what you do, and public service and like on Capitol Hill I am sure is not easy. So thank you. We really, really appreciate it. Thank you for doing that.