In his first major policy speech as Federal Communications Commission Chairman, Ajit Pai outlined how he plans to bring the "benefits of the digital age to all Americans."
Addressing the Pittsburgh audience, Pai praised residents and businesses in the former steel Mecca for their resilience and ability to rebound from the collapse of manufacturing, 20% unemployment rate and long-felt impact of the recession. The city, he said, should serve as both inspiration and guide to other hard-hit regions that want to attract digital innovators, higher education and venture capital.
But, Pai admitted, individuals, businesses and cities cannot become digital success stories without some federal guidance and aid. While the Donald Trump era heralds a more laissez faire attitude toward government intervention than his predecessor -- and Pai already has undone several of predecessor Tom Wheeler's initiatives -- the FCC still has a vital role to play in ensuring broadband availability across the nation.
Here are six takeaways from Pai's speech:
Coast to Coast: To encourage small businesses and entrepreneurs outside the East and West Coasts, it's imperative they have access to competitively priced ultra-broadband.
Competitive Free Market: When the private sector is properly incentivized and free to invest and create, it results in a competitive free market, said Pai. "That's why we must eliminate unnecessary barriers to investment that could stifle new discoveries and services," he said. "In particular, the government should aim to minimize regulatory uncertainty, which can deter long-term investment decisions. The government should also be as nimble as the industry we oversee. That’s easier to say than to achieve, but it must be the goal."
Protect and Safeguard: The FCC must protect consumers and promote public safety, according to Pai. It also must free up more wireless spectrum to empower 5G's potential, he added.
Abide by Section 7: Under this law, the FCC has up to one year to decide whether any new service or technology is in the public interest. However it typically has taken longer than 12 months -- something that now will change, according to Pai. The Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) now is responsible for ensuring the FCC complies with Section 7 on new products or services, he added.
Infrastructure Build-Up: To close the digital divide and ensure country-wide access to broadband, the FCC must reduce bureaucracy and reduce fiber costs, said Pai. Likewise, it should modernize regulations, use subsidies wisely and seek changes in the law when applicable, he said. If Congress acts on President Trump's proposal for a major infrastructure bill, it should include wired and wireless broadband, said Pai. Earlier this year, the FCC adopted a $4.5 billion plan for rural 4G LTE and finalized rules surrounding $2 billion for fixed broadband via the Connect America Fund.
Identify Problems: FCC bureaus are in the process of identifying obsolete FCC rules or regulations whose benefits "don't outweigh their costs," as the first step toward repealing them, said Pai. "Moreover, we must get rid of rules that force companies to spend money filling out paperwork instead of installing broadband," he said. "And finally, we must make it easier for providers to upgrade infrastructure, such as replacing copper with fiber. For every dollar spent maintaining an old network is a dollar that can’t be spent connecting more Americans to a next-generation network."
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