Broadband: With Jessica Rosenworcel
#114 minutes

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto talks to FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel about how we can get more girls coding, how our cities can be smarter, and why getting connected and online is essential for everyone to have a fair shot at 21st century success.

Transcript: 

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Hello, welcome to the very first episode of Broadband Conversations. I'm Jessica Rosenworcel and I'm a Commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, and this is a podcast where I get to talk to leading women who are making a difference across the technology, innovation, and media industries. You'll hear us talk about what they're working on, what's on their minds, and what they think is next for the future.

And I'm honored and thrilled that our very first guest is Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto. She is the first Latina ever elected to the United States Senate and a woman who is looking to the future of innovation, and I know she shares my deep commitment to making sure that no one gets left behind in the digital age.

Senator, thank you for joining me today and helping me launch Broadband Conversations.

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: Thank you. I'm honored, and actually now I feel a lot of responsibility. This is your first show. I better pull out all the stops, huh?

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, I have some confidence in you, yeah. So how about we just start quickly with you telling us how you got to where you are today?

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: Oh, you know, a lot of support from a great family. I grew up in a hard-working family and a father who believed in his daughters, that you could, as a girl, you can achieve anything. You know what? If you work hard, you persist, and you get a good education, you could do anything.

So I had the support of great parents and then mentors along the way really and, you know, I'm a big supporter of mentors and people that can kind of help you if you have questions about anything, and lead the way for you and open doors, and that's why I try to do it every single day.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, you bet. That's good stuff. I mean, everyone should strive to be a mentor or a sponsor and bring someone else along. Now, I want to turn to tech. So you've got to tell me about your innovation state initiative.

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: Yeah.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: What's that about?

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: It is exciting. You know, I say Nevada is an innovation state because it really is. We are in a time right now where we have a governor who has done an incredible job working with our legislature and our leaders really focusing on bringing tech manufacturing to Nevada.

Focus on actually priming and prepping our state laws to incentivize and open the door for more of this type of use of technology, whether it is automated vehicles, or drones, or what I am working on are smart communities, right, the internet of things, and this connectivity where everybody is working together. There is a lot of excitement in Nevada right now and my role, and I feel very strongly about this, is making sure that I am at a federal level incentivizing it, supporting it, looking at how we invest in not just the new technology, but jobs, right, workers, the skilled workforce that we need, the displaced workers that we want to help, and investing in, as you will appreciate, the broadband across our state, not just in our urban areas, but rural areas, the connectivity because that brings so many new opportunities, but most importantly, this smart communities that I see as the future.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: You bet. So how about you tell me a little bit about how your position on a committee I know well -

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: You do.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: - the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, matters in this whole equation?

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: You're right. It gives me the opportunity to focus on incentivizing and passing legislation and supporting innovation in not just Nevada, but across the country.

It's been an exciting time. I don't know if you've ever been to - in Nevada, we have the consumer electronics show.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yes, and I have.

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: And I grew up - let me just tell you. I was born and raised in Las Vegas.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, so it was in your backyard.

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: It was in my backyard, and I remember the days of going there when it was just about big speakers, right -

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Big, clunky stuff -

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: - eight track tapes.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: - with big antennas -

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: That's right.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: - that you pulled out, and out, and out to the heavens, right?

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: Exactly.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yeah.

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: The big phones. Now it is about the internet of things. You walk in and it is - you can walk into a mock up of a home where the kitchen is communicating with the car. It's communicating, you know, with your local vendors, with the transportation system, with your street lights. It's incredible.

And that, to me, is the future, and I want to make sure as we embrace this future, and we should, not just in the state, but the country, that as we build this framework and this kind of architecture, we're also looking to lay the guardrails for privacy, cyber security, right, the things that we know are important as we continue to embrace and move this forward.

So the Commerce Committee that I sit on gives me the ability to really focus on this discussion, participate in hearings, work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in legislation that moves us in the direction of embracing this innovation.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yeah, no, you're right, and all of those devices you describe are connected wirelessly and connected through broadband -

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: That's right.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: - which are some of the most fundamental things that the committee oversees. So how about telling me a little more about why you think your state is leading in technology?

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: You know, we have passed at the state level legislation to really set the infrastructure that's necessary for the use of this new technology. We have drones. We are one of the test sites for the drones. We are testing automated vehicles now.

We have in our regional transportation commissions, both in northern Nevada and southern Nevada, using the technology for smart transportation.

And I'm going to steal this because this is Tina Quigley who is our Executive Director of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, she says technology is the new asphalt and it is.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, I like that.

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: Isn't it great?

MS. ROSENWORCEL: I like that.

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: And so we are really working hard as a state to really, not just at the government level, but work with our private sector, everybody coming together to recognize our future and help kind of invest in that new future.

But let me just say this. Along with the private sector and government, we have our higher education and our system of education, whether it's K through 12, that pipeline, or higher ed, as part of this discussion, right, because it's about -

MS. ROSENWORCEL: It's the future of jobs and -

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: That's right.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: - it's the future of work.

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: That's right. We need the skilled workforce for the future, so we're training them as they come through that education pipeline, and we're also working with potentially displaced workers to give them the certificates and the jobs of the future as well.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: You know, what's amazing is it's such an urbanized state in some ways, but you've also got these vast spaces.

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: That's right.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: And it's a perfect testing ground for drones, autonomous cars, or wireless technology because there's so little interference.

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: That's right, and that's why it is a great area for us now to really come together as a state and work together.

And, you know, Nevada, there's three million people that live in Nevada, so it's really still small enough where we're flexible and nimble to be able to work together very quickly to achieve a goal as a state working together, and I think that's part of our success as well.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, that's neat, and you've got the consumer electronics show there -

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: That's right. That's right.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: - which is a big deal. Now, I know you've also made diversity one of your key issues, and tell me a little more about why it's so important to bring diversity to STEM fields.

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: You know, I'm a big proponent of just, when I say opening that door wider, that we're getting more people that look like us, right?

I've always been a big proponent that whether you're in government or private sector, particularly the government that we work in should look just like the community it represents, and I think that's true in so many levels and areas.

And when it comes to STEM or STEAM even now, and I'll talk a little bit about that, really we should be talking and getting our young kids excited about science, right, and technology, engineering, mathematics, and the arts. They all kind of fit together.

Over the weekend, I was visiting with the Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada and they were having a conference on STEAM and they -

MS. ROSENWORCEL: How fantastic.

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: Yeah, it was wonderful, and every single one of the speakers - so they had these breakout sessions and every single one of the speakers were women or women of different backgrounds and how they were successful in their fields, whether it was a STEAM career and profession, and they talked about it.

And the young, the girls that I talked to in the Girl Scouts, they had great questions, and every single one of them, this was an area they wanted to get involved with because they're our future leaders and they recognize there's an opportunity here to really get involved in the future with the use of technology, but at the same time, it's something that is coming their way and I want to make sure that our young girls have exposure to it so -

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yeah.

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: - they know there's opportunities.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Well, you know what's so great about that is I believe if you can see it, you can be it.

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: That's right.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: And by exposing them at a young age, there's something that lodges in your brain about how this too could be me in the future.

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: That's right.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: It's so important.

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: Yeah.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: So I know you're been thinking about that because you have your Code Like a Girl Act. I love the title of that.

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: Yeah.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Why don't you tell me a little more about that?

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: It is, it's just that. It is really to work with the National Science Foundation to come up with, to support them in funding programs and training for young girls to get involved in coding and programming.

Too often I see there are times when girls aren't as exposed to these areas as much, and particularly young girls of color. I think there are opportunities for so many young kids and young girls to really be exposed to, whether it is coding or programming, because we know that it's, we're in the future of technology, right?

This is a new age. I think there is so much happening right now on so many different levels that we want young kids to be able to recognize it, train for it, understand it, and then take it even further than we're taking it right now, right?

We're only limited right now by our imaginations and those of our kids and their imagination in where we're going to go with this new technology.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, that sounds so good. Do you have any other ideas about promoting STEM and encouraging diversity?

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: Yes, I, like I said, the Girl Scouts is an area that I've always worked in and partnered with, and in partnering -

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Were you a Girl Scout when you were young too?

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: I was.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: There we go.

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: I was a Brownie. I was and my -

MS. ROSENWORCEL: I was a Brownie.

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: I was Brownie and my sister made it from a Brownie into a Junior Girl Scout. I didn't go that far. I got involved in other things, but I'm a big supporter.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: I think you did okay.

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: Yeah.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: All right.

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: But, so I am working with - so the head of the Girl Scouts now is a Latina nationally, and her name is Sylvia and she's phenomenal.

So she and I just did an op-ed together in talking about how promoting and supporting STEAM and those types of professions for our young girls is something that we should all be doing, not just from the Girl Scouts, but even in our K through 12 and our education system, and talking with our community colleges and our systems of higher education and partnering with them on the curriculum that's necessary for them to get jobs.

It's one thing to train them and talk about it, but it's another to make sure that we train them and they actually get that job of the future, right? So we've got to be working with the businesses and pull them into this discussion.

So there have been incredible partnerships happening in Nevada and across the country where we actually bring the businesses in and they're talking with the kids, and they're talking about the issues and the training that's necessary. I think that's important. We can't forget that.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, that sounds good. All right, so how do we ensure that everyone, especially the next generation which we're talking about here with the Girl Scouts, but everyone has a fair shot in the digital age?

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: And we -

MS. ROSENWORCEL: That's so important.

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: It is important, and we talked a little bit about this and I'll bring it back to this. It is connectivity because we know there are underserved populations in our urban areas and our rural areas where they don't have access to broadband, and if we're going to open this door for them and we're going to connect them to the internet and connect them to those opportunities, we need to bring it every - we need to invest. We need to fund and support. And that's why I've been working very hard in the United States Senate to make sure we're appropriating dollars for rural broadband and broadband in general and getting it to those areas that are not connected right now because that's going to open the door, whether it's smart communities, or telemedicine, or just in education and bringing e-learning to so many areas that are underserved, and we know those are some of our minority communities as well.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yeah, that's important, and to have anything like a fair shot in the 21st century, you have got to be connected.

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: That's right.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: So I usually - and this, by asking a few questions, consider it a lightning round. All right, what was the first thing you ever did on the internet?

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: Oh, my gosh. You've got to remember, I remember when the internet first came out publicly, so that was a long time ago.

So the first thing, actually I know what I did. I was looking at, researching something online with the new encyclopedia that they had. Do you remember? There was a name for it and I can't remember it right now. It was - there was a name for it.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: No, but there was the novelty of not having to go to the library -

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: Exactly, and you could go -

MS. ROSENWORCEL: - and take out the World Book, right?

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: That's right, and that was it.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Okay.

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: It was kind of like this online encyclopedia.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: That's a very good academic answer.

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: That's right.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: All right.

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: That's right.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: How about this? What was the last thing you did on the internet?

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: I read the news.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Of course.

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: Yeah, I read the news.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Appropriate for someone in Washington. All right, what do you hope the future of the internet and digital life looks like?

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: You know what, just it brings opportunities to people, just what I talked about. It opens those doors. It makes sure everybody, I don't care where you come, your socioeconomic background, everybody has the opportunity to succeed, and that innovation, and those smart communities, and the connectivity, and the opportunity to connect with more learning and healthcare. That's what I'm hopeful and I see the future.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: All right, so the future of the internet is the future of opportunity?

SENATOR CORTEZ MASTO: Correct.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: All right, well, that wraps up my first episode of Broadband Conversations. Thank you so much for being here and thanks to everyone for listening. Take care.