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FCC Chair Ajit Pai: Private Providers Can Solve The Digital Divide … If Government Gets Out Of The Way

September 12, 2017

Two weeks ago, this blog detailed how private sector Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are helping to bridge the digital divide. In remarks in Texas last week, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chair Ajit Pai picked up on this theme, arguing that commercial investment is key to bringing more people online.

According to Multichannel, Pai argued that government’s role is to get out of the way as much as possible. Outdated rules and unnecessary red tape prevent commercial providers from making new investments. Pai explained, “Entrepreneurs are constantly developing new technologies and services … But too often, they’re unable to bring them to market quickly for consumers because outdated rules or regulatory inertia stand in the way.” Too much government involvement makes “it more expensive to construct these networks than it needs to be,” Pai said.

Pai is committed to finding ways to improve the regulatory environment. Specifically, according to Broadcasting & Cable, Pai is focused on eliminating rules that deter the transition from copper nets to fiber. He also wants to work with state and local governments to streamline permitting requirements.

If government doesn’t act as a partner to the private sector, commercial investment will flow more slowly, Pai suggested, especially to areas where the need is the greatest. In his remarks in Texas he concluded, “Capital doesn’t have to be spent … Risks don’t have to be taken. So the more difficult government makes the business case for deployment, the less likely it is that broadband providers, big and small, will invest the billions of dollars needed to connect consumers.”

In June, Pai took a five-state road trip in an attempt to better understand the communications divide in rural America and in an interview with Marketplace.org this week, he promised that the FCC will do everything it can to bridge the digital gap. Pai said, “It’s admittedly not easy, and I’ve seen it for myself. But nonetheless I think it’s incumbent upon federal officials … to do everything they can to address the divide. There may be some folks who we just aren’t able to reach, but, by God we’re going to do our best to reach them nonetheless.”