“This is the real story of America; how people in small towns and big cities alike are coming together to try to create what I call, digital opportunity,” exclaims Ajit Pai, in the above interview filmed on March 21st at the ACA Summit. Pai describes how the grassroots efforts to build broadband were a recurring theme of his recent road trips, where he met with various groups including municipal utilities, start-up networks and tribal nations. These local efforts to build broadband networks inspire his perspective on regulation.
He paints a picture of the devastation he saw in Puerto Rico and the expense of rebuilding a network in mountainous and rocky terrain (on March 6th, Chairman Pai proposed a $954M package to restore and expand communications networks in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands).
He points out that the difficultly of establishing the broadband business case in many communities and that he believes the mission of the FCC is to have light-touch regulation, as well as provide financial assistance through the Universal Service Fund (which includes the just launched Connect America Fund – Phase II Auction) to help organizations build broadband. This philosophy is consistent with a white paper written by this author suggesting a way to leverage limited federal funding to create community broadband networks through voluntary property assessments, similar to certain home solar financing programs.
He talks of the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) and its goal of understanding the barriers to broadband deployment. He suggests one of the outcomes from this volunteer, expert-led committee is a model code that states, and localities can use to accelerate the deployment of broadband. He lauds approaches that better utilize federal resources, such as dig-once, which places conduit in the ground when implementing road infrastructure projects, lowering the cost of future fiber installation. This is the sort of program that, as Pai indicates, crosses party lines.
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