Pai: Equal Opportunity Depends on Digital Access

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At a recent Latin American Telecommunications Conference, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai declared that the American Dream of “equality of opportunity…depends on access to digital communications.” He then outlined what his Commission is doing to “promote universal access to…digital opportunity.”

The Chairman explained that a light touch, “market-based regulatory framework…promotes competition and increases network investment.” In order “to make it easier to install wireless infrastructure like small cells, we set a reasonable deadline for cities to rule on siting applications and reasonable limits on siting fees.” Further, he said “We’ve modernized rules to make it easier for carriers to transition from maintaining yesterday’s copper networks to building tomorrow’s fiber networks.”

Pai cited evidence that the FCC’s policies have worked very well. In 2018, he said, “fiber was deployed to more new homes in the United States than any year ever. Small-cell deployment more than quadrupled. Average fixed broadband speeds are up 40% year over year. And investment in broadband networks was up about $3 billion in 2018, the second consecutive annual increase.”

He told the gathering that the FCC has approved applications from companies whose low-earth orbit satellites “hold the potential for much faster and more reliable Internet services (to) help us reach our hardest-to-serve-areas.”

Pai called the FCC’s universal service programs its “primary tool for connecting these hardest-to-serve areas. And…we’ve advanced a number of groundbreaking reforms to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of these programs.” Reverse auctions, he said, were held last year, which “allocated about $1.5 billion to connect 713,000 unserved homes and businesses nationwide.”

Other things are being done to promote universal service as well, he continued. They include increased support for small, rural carriers in return for more aggressive buildout requirements, and an increased budget for rural healthcare providers.

We agree that this FCC, with some prodding, has done a good job with its universal service programs. We hope it continues, despite ongoing legal and legislative attempts to re-impose heavier, more stringent government regulation over the digital universe.