Commissioners Spar Over Progress of Broadband Deployment

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Not surprisingly, Republican and Democrat leaders of the FCC have radically different opinions regarding the current status of broadband deployment in America. Democrat Commissioners Starks and Rosenworcel, who favor a return to more rigid regulation of the internet, paint a dark and gloomy picture of deployment. Chairman Pai, speaking for the Republican majority, touts substantial and documented progress.

Mr. Starks, in his statement on the 15th annual Inquiry Concerning Deployment of Advanced Telecommunications Capability to All Americans in a Reasonable and Timely Fashion, opined that “Internet inequality is deepening in the U.S. with millions of Americans unable to access an affordable, high-quality broadband connection. He claimed that while “this statutory directive is clear…the FCC’s direction…is far from it.”

Ms. Rosenworcel, his Democrat colleague, declared that given the FCC ‘s Broadband Deployment Report, based on its finding that “broadband was being deployed nationwide in a reasonable and timely way,” the agency simply “clapped its hands and pronounced our broadband job done.” Pointing to “evidence all around us,” she concluded that “I believe the FCC got it wrong.”

As proof, she talked of “too many Americans” lacking access to high speed home internet, “too many communities…struggling to secure…broadband, too many rural households and tribal areas” fearing consignment “to the wrong side of the rural divide,” and “too many urban areas” where “redlining has led to broadband deserts.” Oh, and “too many students in the homework gap, because they lack the internet access needed for nightly schoolwork.”

Mr. Pai, in a more rational and factual statement, said that the Commission’s top priority since he became Chairman in 2017 has been to close the digital divide. He cited facts to show his programs have been “moving in the right direction:” The percentage of “Americans without access to 25/3 Mbps service fell by more than 18% in 2017. In 2018, fiber was deployed to more American homes than any year before. And broadband investment increased in 2017 and 2018, after falling in 2015 and 2016.” (Those years, of course, were under the tighter regulation of the previous FCC.)

“But of course,” Pai countered the opposition’s assertion that this FCC thinks its “broadband job is done,” by simply stating “our work is not yet done.” He cited the majority’s proposal (over the partial dissent of two Commissioners) “to establish the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which could connect 4 million or more unserved rural homes and businesses to high-speed broadband.” He announced pointedly that “Our goal is simple: to provide digital opportunity to every American who wants it.”

And in direct contrast to his Democrat colleagues, he made it clear that “As we advance toward that goal, our policies must be based on facts—not assertions that fall apart when subjected to even a bit of scrutiny.”

Well done, Mr. Chairman.