“My wish is for all of rural America to close the digital divide. I want to make sure rural America is front and center and not in the background, during our decision making.”
That’s what FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told attendees of the convention in New Orleans by NTCA, the Rural Broadband Association, Tuesday. Interviewed by NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield, Pai noted that he grew up in rural Kansas, and one of his greatest fears is future generations won’t have the great experience he had, which is why he’s working hard to close the rural digital divide.
“Those of you who hire crews and roll up your sleeves are making broadband work,” he said. The FCC is working hard to streamline both wired and wireless infrastructure siting, he added.
The Commission is also trying to balance rural and urban needs for Universal Service. “Part of our goal is to provide support for construction of networks. Your members understand building broadband is not a flash in the pan decision—it’s long-term,” Pai said.
Concerning the USF reforms passed last year, Pai said the agency believes certainty and sufficiency were primary concerns of rural carriers. He noted the way the rules used to be applied was unpredictable. “We got an order across the finish line that provides consistency,” Pai explained.
Speaking about rural broadband, Pai said some of the frequencies being auctioned will require wired backhaul to be deployed at the needed densities. The Commission is making it easier for companies to have access to utility poles and lay wire in the ground, according to the Chairman.
Bloomfield, who’s on the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee, says NTCA sees 5G as a “fiber-fed product” in rural America. “We believe strongly wireless needs wires. It’s not pixie dust that moves all of this data,” she said.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief
February 6, 2019