Pai Agrees With FCC Sec. 706 Finding

The FCC officially voted to adopt its latest broadband deployment report, with the somewhat surprising assent of FCC commissioner Ajit Pai that advanced telecom was not being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion.

The report findings were actually outlined earlier this month, but not voted on until Jan. 28.

That is the sec. 706 Communications Act test for deployment. A negative finding authorizes the FCC to take various regulatory steps.

Pai used that—surprising from a Republican—statement to hammer home a point that the Obama Administration's efforts to stimulate that deployment was where the failure lay. USTelecom made a similar point when the report findings were first released.

"Has the section 706 test been met," he asked. "Perhaps surprisingly to some, including myself, I agree with the majority’s end result: After seven years, $63.6 billion spent, and plenty of talk, this Administration’s policies have failed to deliver 'advanced telecommunications capability'—broadband—to the American people in a reasonable and timely fashion," he said.

"You might think that for all the money the Administration has spent, there would be real progress. But the FCC doesn’t think so. And in many ways, I agree," he said. He ticked off stimulus spending and various subsidies that had cost those billions.

He also cited the first-ever reduction in investment by major broadband providers, which he attributed to the "FCC’s rubber-stamp of President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet."

Pai clarified his point in a press conference following the vote. He said that if at the end of all the billions spent the FCC is still not able to say it is being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion, that is an indictment of failed FCC and adminisration policies.

Republican commissioner Michael O'Rielly said he did not agree with Pai, said the FCC had come up with wrong facts to come up with a false number, and dissented from the report.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said the results spoke for themselves. Those being:

“Fact #1: In the most recent year measured, our nation made significant progress in broadband deployment.  The number of Americans lacking access to fixed broadband at the FCC’s benchmark speed of 25 Mbps for downloads, 3 Mbps for uploads dropped from 55 million to 34 million.  That’s a nearly 40 percent reduction in the number of unserved Americans in only one year.

Fact #2: Despite recent gains, we still fall short of the statutory goal of universal access to fixed high-speed broadband. Approximately 34 million Americans still lack access to fixed broadband at 25/3.

Fact #3: The urban-rural digital divide persists and is significant.  Thirty-nine percent of Americans living in rural areas and lack access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, compared to 4 percent of urban Americans.  On Tribal Lands in rural America, 68 percent lack access.

Fact #4: Our schools and libraries still face a connectivity gap.  Forty-one percent of schools have not met the Commission’s short-term goal of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students/staff.  And a much smaller percentage have met the longer-term goal of 1 Gbps/1,000 users.

Fact #5: Americans rely more and more on mobile broadband service.  This is particularly true of low income and minority consumers.  Americans use their smart phones and tablets to access the Internet on the go so much that the concept of 'advanced telecommunications' as Congress defined it must include access to both fixed and mobile broadband.”

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.