Something remarkable happened during Commissioner Ajit Pai’s speech in Pittsburgh today. (PDF) In his first major speech, Commissioner Pai laid out a proposal to “unlock investment and innovation in the digital age” by promoting entrepreneurs, holding the FCC accountable, and providing clarity to the broadband industry.
To date, this FCC’s path toward our broadband future has been stalled by inaction and a failure to adjust to the rapid changes affecting the wireless industry and the Internet economy. The 2010 National Broadband Plan says “Broadband is the great infrastructure challenge of the early 21st century.” Yet, over two years later, the FCC (1) has no strategy for transitioning our nation to all-IP communications networks, (2) has no timeline for making more spectrum available, and (3) is expending its resources on the regulation of narrowband special access services. Commissioner Pai recognizes that the current course will not promote continued investment in IP-networks or the wireless ecosystem, and that America’s global competitiveness hinges on how fast we can move to an all IP world.
As a first step, he recommends that the FCC be as nimble as the industry it regulates. He would make the deployment of new services and technologies the FCC’s highest priority by creating an Office of Entrepreneurial Innovation (OEI). The new office would provide entrepreneurs with an advocate at the FCC whose role is promoting innovation rather than the coddling industry favorites. Commissioner Pai also believes the agency should start taking FCC deadlines seriously. He suggests setting a nine-month deadline for resolving petitions for reconsideration and applications for review, and a six-month deadline for acting on requests for waiver. In addition to promoting administrative efficiency and providing the industry with needed clarity, his proposal would help to ensure that all Commissioners have an opportunity to formulate FCC policy, rather than just the Chairman.
Second, he would remove barriers to infrastructure investment by signaling that IP networks will not be subject to legacy regulations designed for monopoly telephone networks. He proposes to establish an IP Transition Task Force to recommend a strategy for transitioning to all-IP networks and updating outdated regulations – something the National Broadband Plan should have done two years ago. He also offers a few principles for the transition, including the abolishment of tariffs, cost studies, and the arbitrary barriers and hidden subsidies that distort competition. For example, he would forbear from restrictions on transactions between cable operators and competitive carriers that, by definition, lack significant market power. These reforms would bring greater certainty to the broadband marketplace and drive investment in the new network facilities America needs to remain competitive internationally.
His final step would renew the FCC’s commitment to freeing up 300 MHz of spectrum in less than three years – a commitment the FCC Chairman appears to have abandoned in recent months. To achieve this goal, he would make the WCS band available for LTE by the end of August, make the AWS-4 band available for terrestrial broadband by the end of September, and adopt an actual schedule for implementing the broadcast incentive auction.
The speech offers an ambitious broadband agenda and real procedural reform for an agency stuck in a 20th Century mindset. It takes more than new website to shape America’s innovation future. It takes leadership, clarity of vision, and commitment. Commissioner Pai is offering all three.