In remarks to decidedly different groups, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioner Geoffrey Starks spoke to the seriousness of the current digital divide in America. Pai, addressing the Reason Foundation, and Starks, before Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition, gave totally separate but equally compelling accounts of the problem.
Chairman Pai said that while certain rural and remote areas will need public assistance, “massive” private investment is still the most important factor in closing the digital divide. He pointed out that some $80 billion per year in private funding has been going toward broadband facilities across America, and that level, at the least, needs to continue. The FCC, he said, has been working to streamline and modernize its rules and regulations to substantially reduce regulatory costs, which have made up too high a portion of that $80 billion.
Commissioner Starks, in his comments, opined that the digital divide has morphed into a “monstrous COVID-19 divide.” He listed a number of positive outcomes of closing that divide. Including getting black businesses connected, both for their success and the benefit of their customers; reducing health problems experienced by blacks “across our most marginalized communities;” assisting the elderly in connecting to family, friends, churches, clubs and a variety of services; and helping young people with their educational needs.
With the Commission about to change from Republican to Democrat control, it will be interesting to see if cutting regulatory costs will continue to be a consideration. And will the expected change back to heavier handed Title I regulation of broadband providers help or hinder the important social goals outlined by Commissioner Starks?