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FCC's Broadband Advisory Committee Holds First Meeting

All three commissioners were in attendance Friday as the FCC hosted the first meeting of the newly constituted Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee, created by FCC chairman Ajit Pai to come up with strategies for closing the digital divide and advancing his Digital Empowerment Agenda, comprising various stakeholders.

"Deploying broadband is hard, expensive, and time-consuming work, whether you’re trenching fiber, attaching equipment to poles, or setting up a gateway earth station. Red tape shouldn’t make those tasks even harder. To me, it’s pretty simple: With rules that make it easier to deploy broadband, we will see more broadband deployed.  And in turn, we can empower millions of Americans with digital opportunity,” said Pai at the meeting.

He said when he proposed the committee, he expected a few dozen applications but got over 380. Pai said the committee's mission is "to give the FCC recommendations on ways to spur broadband deployment and reduce barriers to investment. One important part of this work, which I previewed last fall, is to develop model codes for state and municipal governments that want to encourage deployment and competitive entry in their jurisdictions."

The committee will be expected to come up with two "model codes," one for cities and the other for states, those codes being guidelines for how to streamline broadband deployment while balancing the interests of government with the demands for better, faster and cheaper broadband. 

The meeting came a day after the FCC took steps to streamline both wired and wireless broadband buildouts in terms of tower siting, pole attachments and access, and rights-of-way on federal land issues, as well as retiring legacy copper networks—and whether nets have to get FCC permission for the phase-outs—and promoting next-gen service like 5G.  

The committee will also consider whether the FCC should preempt state laws impeding broadband buildouts. 

FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn attended the meeting to deliver a message. She said that the committee should put consumers first as it debates tower-siting codes or infrastructure streamlining. That includes making sure low income residents are not relegated to second-class status and remembering that “one person's regulatory barrier is another's vital consumer protection.”

Commissioner Michael O'Rielly talked about the litany of barriers to broadband service but said there have been tremendous advances in service, including via the Universal Service Fund, but that the vast amount has been thanks to the risk capital of private companies. He said the FCC would never support nationalizing those industries in the service of faster buildouts.

He said it will take multiple technologies to build out.

O'Rielly offered a word of warning: Don't throw government money at the problem. He said he would be reluctant to support increasing costs to consumers.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.