Pai: ACA Risks Have Rewarded Country with Rural Broadband

FCC chair Ajit Pai told smaller cable operators in Thursday (March 21) that they have "taken the risks and helped build out broadband to thousands, millions of people across the country."

He said those are the people yearning to be connected and those smaller operators, on the front lines of rural rollouts, are "making that happen."

He was speaking at the America's Communications Association summit in Washington.

ACA president Matt Polka credited Pai's regulatory light touch with encouraging his members to invest in rural broadband rollouts and closing the digital divide, with Pai drawing lengthy applause at his introduction for a Q&A with Polka, as he did when Polka pointed out he had committed to staying on as chairman.

The chairman said that since his Restoring Internet Freedom order was adopted in December 2017, the predictions of the "end of the internet," or "having to pay five dollars per Tweet," or "the internet will work one word at a time," "ginned up by Beltway special interests have not panned out.

In fact, Pai said the FCC had been keeping a list of those doom and gloom predictions, and "every one of them has been proven false." (Polka interjected the irony of all those folks "freely using the internet to criticize how they can't freely use the internet").

Critics of the chairman's deregulatory move say that ISPs are simply biding their time since it would be a political miscalculation to immediately exercise their freedom from rules preventing blocking, throttling or paid prioritization.

Pai came armed with some statistics, however, including that broadband speeds were up over 35% from December 2017 to December 2018. He said millions more are benefitting from fiber infrastructure investment.

Polka said said one of the messages his members would be taking to the Hill was that they would continue to insure their subs had access to the internet.

Pai said getting broadband to America is not a Republican or Democratic issue, something Polka also talked about in his opening for the morning session.

Polka gave Pai credit for helping ease poll attachments. In turn, Pai said ACA's advocacy was instrumental, including Polka's testimony to Congress that attachments were 31% of the cost of building out plant.

John Eggerton

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.