FCC chairman promises broadband for all

Republican FCC head Ajit Pai says he'll cut regulatory red tape to get broadband deployed faster.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has made broadband deployment a key part of his agenda.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is pushing for his boss President Donald Trump and Congress to include broadband in an upcoming infrastructure spending bill.

In a speech Wednesday at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pai made the case to lawmakers that broadband should be a priority in the bill, because it's a driving force for economic growth. He also offered ideas on what should be included in the legislation to encourage the deployment of high speed internet infrastructure.

First, he said any money going directly to projects should be administered through the FCC's Universal Service Fund "to maximize the impact of these investments" and "to minimize waste." Second, he urged Congress to include his proposal for Gigabit Opportunity Zones, which offer tax incentives to broadband providers building in low-income neighborhoods.

"In the digital age, I believe, our wired and wireless broadband networks are core components of our nation's infrastructure," Pai said. "That's why my position is clear: If Congress moves forward with a major infrastructure package, broadband should be included."

Pai, who was elevated to the role of chairman in January by Trump, has said that expanding access to broadband, particularly in rural communities, is a top priority for his office. He's also talked up plans to dismantle regulation, such as the net neutrality rules passed in 2015. His speech Wednesday is part of a tour to cities, like Pittsburgh, Detroit and Cleveland, to tout this broadband agenda. These are cities in a region of the country where voters who supported Trump have struggled to adapt to changes in the economy. Pai's message is about expanding opportunity through better access to broadband.

He acknowledged that millions of well-paying industrial jobs that didn't require a college degree are gone, and that changes in technology have been unsettling to many people in midwestern industrial cities, who fear economic opportunities have passed them by. But he assured them the FCC "is right there with you and all cities and towns trying to navigate the path to the future."

Pai said access to affordable high speed broadband is the great equalizer in the economy, and he pledged to do what he can to cut red tape and provide incentives to companies to build broadband infrastructure in these underserved regions.

"I've instructed all of the commission's bureaus to identify FCC rules that are raising the costs of broadband build-out," he said. "If the benefits of those rules don't outweigh their costs, we'll begin the process of repealing them.

Pai also emphasized the need to make sure incentives are in place for broadband providers to build in rural communities that have too often been overlooked.

"Access to digital opportunity shouldn't depend on who you are or where you're from," he said. "Whether you live in Manhattan, New York, or Manhattan, Montana (population 1,520), we want you to be digitally empowered."

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