FCC Chairman Ajit Pai made his first appearance in front of a NATE audience yesterday in Dallas at NATE Unite 2019. Having climbed a 131-foot tower last year, Pai said he felt a special kinship with his audience. “I’m impressed by the risks taken by the men and women in this room,” he said following a standing ovation reception at the podium, “people who literally put their lives on the line to make digital communications possible.”
In an exclusive interview with Inside Towers, Pai said he doubts he can top the almost 2,000 foot ascent from fellow FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, but he said he’s not ruling out another tower climb in the future.
With the broadcast repack in full swing, Pai said the need for experienced tower crews is crucial to both repack and 5G buildouts. By November 30 of last year, 143 repacked stations had moved off their pre-auction channels.
“By contrast,” Pai said, “according to our original plan, only 90 stations were supposed to be repacked by the end of Phase 1. That’s good news; we’re ahead of schedule,” he said. “Right now, we’re in the middle of Phase 2, which ends on April 12. Thus far, over 20 of the approximately 115 stations assigned to Phase 2 have moved to their new channel. So, the next two months will busy ones for NATE members.”
Pai said it’s hard enough finding people with the technical skills to maintain and service communications equipment and even harder finding people who can do this work hundreds of feet in the air. “That’s why we need to invest in the training and development of our communications workforce, now and into the future. I want to assure everyone here that the FCC is aware of this challenge and committed to work with Congress, NATE, and others to move the ball forward.”
Citing the bipartisan legislation introduced within the past year by Reps. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) and Dave Loebsack (D-IA), he expressed confidence Congress would help establish and expand job training opportunities for tower workers.
Having a regulatory framework in place that makes it as cheap and easy as possible to go forward with small cells and 5G buildout is a primary agenda for his agency, Pai told Inside Towers. “And not just the hundreds of thousand of small cells but the macro towers as well. We’re not going to lose focus on that important piece of infrastructure.”
Comments? Email Us.
By Jim Fryer, Managing Editor, Inside Towers
February 7, 2019