FCC's Ajit Pai: Net neutrality repeal helps rural broadband
I'm here at FCC in Washington DC where I'm sitting down with FCC chairman Ajit Pai and we are talking about world broadband and how we can get to the millions of Americans who are not connected to the internet online.
So, thanks a lot for being here.
So 24 million Americans are without broadband access.
That's according to FCC data.
14 million of those are living in rural areas.
What's the problem?
I think, part of the problem is that the areas that are more rural tend to be sparsely populated, of course.
Those people tend to have lower incomes.
And in some cases there are some difficulties that arise because of the land.
It could be very mountainous like in West Virginia.
It could be in a part of the country like Alaska, northern Minnesota, where the building season is relatively short because it gets so cold.
Or there's permafrost that freezes the ground.
And so there are a lot of challenges that people have to overcome in order to provide those digital connections in rural America.
And that's where I think the digital divide is felt the keenest, at least based on some of my travels.
So let's talk about what the FCC's doing to try to solve this problem.
We're modernizing our regulations, trying to reduce the red tape, essentially to make it easy as possible for companies to have a strong business case for building in some of these rural, hard-to-serve areas.
And that involves some of the most nitty-gritty work that the FCC does.
Stuff that you wont see on the front pages of newspapers or on TV but its making easier for competitive entrance to get access and timely access to utility poles, to be able to string fiber in some of these rural areas, making it easier for them to invest in fiber as opposed to maintaining the fading copper lines that are in the ground.
For some of our fixed wireless companies we wanna give them more spectrum to be able to use in order to provide a high speed,high quality and cheaper alternative to some of the fixed broadband companies or to reach parts of the country where fibre may not be able to go.
In addition, we are encouraging new competition and innovation from some non traditional players under our leadership for example We've introduced the first generations of a non GEO stationary site companies.
Like Space X for example or One WEb that want to deploy hundreds if not thousands of small satellites in low Earth orbit and beam Internet access back to Earth.
And that could be a game changer especially in rural and remote and tribal parts of the country.
What about the repeal of the net neutrality I know you talked a lot about, one of the reasons to repeal the rules was that it was stifling innovation and investment.
Are you seeing any kind of upticks since the rules have been erased from the books?
We've seen some very positive initial aggregate evidence, and when I travel around as well, we see that.
I was in rural Georgia for example and talked with Paladin Wireless in Roycetown, Georgia that
Had to spend $8,000 in terms of compliance on the previous rules, and Royston's a pretty small town and $8,000 could've gone a long way towards connecting people.
Just last week I was in Vermont and had a chance to visit with VTel, and VTel submitted evidence to the FCC that, as a result of this decision as well as other regulatory modernization, they are now confident enough to invest $4 million.
To upgrade their 4G LTE core to provide connectivity to all of their rural subscribers, they're investing more into that core.
Do you think that they wouldn't have done that had the rules not been--
I think the evidence speaks for itself, that we saw a downturn for the first time outside of a recession in the two years when Title II was in effect.
Going forward, I think some of these companies, especially the smaller companies, have much more confidence in the ability to invest.
So how much do you think it's going to move the needle for world wide gain in terms of not having net neutrality rules spurring investment?>> I think it will go a long way.
I think if you talk to companies like Aristotle for example, a fixed wireless IP, in Little Rock, Arkansas.
If you talk to other of these smaller providers, they'll tell you that This does factor into their decisions.
And to have a light-touch approach that protects consumers on one hand, and preserves their incentive and ability to invest and innovate on the other, is a really powerful solution, especially in rural America.
Is this a problem that still needs more money to get to the finish line, or can we fix this Problem through various policies.
I think that's one of the decisions that Congress has to confront, as well as the FCC, for our part at least.
We are determined to stretch those dollars as far as we possibly can.
Should Congress see fit to increase the amount of money that's available, we'll certainly have existing mechanisms that can distribute it in a defective way.
But I do think we need, also in addition to the funding, just a sense of national mission when it comes to broadband and
To me, at least I see it as an echo of the rural electrification efforts we saw in the 1930s.
Almost 100 years ago now, and to have that same sense of mission now I think would be great.
And I think it's something that's bipartisan in nature.
That worked, that happened.
I mean, there are very few places in America that don't have electricity.
Are we gonna be able to do that with broadband?
I hope so.
I mean it's my perhaps accomodation of foolish optimism and sheer determination.
Well, I wanted to hear something a little better than I hope so.
Come on, you're supposed to be like, yeah, man, we're doing it.
Well, obviously, we are are.
Look, if you look at all of our efforts, I mean, it's remarkable how much we've gotten done over the last 20 months to be able to solve this problem.
I believe there are many hard deserts parts of the country and we wanna make sure we are working as actively as we can to make every single one of them and that's our goal.
It's to update that promise of the universe.
So how long?
How will it take?
It's very difficult to forecast I mean ofcourse the connect American phone option that funding will be distributed soon and over the next four years that money has to be used to biuld up the networks.
Or the mobility fund will extend funding of the next decade, but hopefully these satellite companies will be launching in Mars over the next couple of years.
And so it might take a little bit of time, but nonetheless the rubber is going to meet the road in the next few years, and I think consumers will be better off for our efforts.
I sure hope it happens.
I hope so too.
As there are a lot of folks whenever I go back home or still waiting for that connection that a lot of folks in big cities take for granted.
And as I said, this is an important national mission for the country, and as a personal mission for me.
At the FCC.
Thanks for letting me come in and talk to you about this.
I sure hope we get broadband everywhere.
That's my dream too.