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At CES 2020, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Touts Role of 5G, Unlicensed Spectrum

Adrienne Patton

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Photo of Ajit Pai and Gary Shapiro at CES2020 courtesy CTA

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on Tuesday emphasized the importance of 5G wireless technology at CES 2020, the technology trade show hosted by CTA in Las Vegas.

As major carriers advance to 5G, he cited barriers including cost, access to spectrum, and work crews. The building of such advanced speed networks is physically demanding, and the FCC has to consider the workforce required to develop these networks, he said.

Although 5G is “part of a mosaic” of new digital opportunities that are exciting for the FCC, Pai said, he also expressed some concerns about deployment. For example, 5G poses a national security issue because it increases services that could produce cybersecurity vulnerabilities. But Pai is hopeful that America will lead in 5G innovation and deployment.

In a question and answer session with CTA CEO Gary Shapiro, Pai stressed that unlicensed spectrum is an area that the FCC is just now tapping into. Prompted by Shapiro’s question asking what else the nation can do to encourage infrastructure, Pai mentioned removing spectrum as a constraint would greatly affect the tech world. Pai’s enthusiasm for unlicensed spectrum is grounded in the possibility of looking back on today as the “Stone Age of Wi-Fi.”

Later on in the session, Pai discussed rural and tribal broadband. Shapiro expressed concern for the “divide in this country,” referring to the spotty or nonexistent connection in rural areas.

Pai said he was concerned that inaccessibility to broadband internet services limits opportunity for Americans. The FCC wants rural Americans, tribal communities, and farmers to be able to access the connection they need.

Toward the end of the session, Pai addressed future priorities for the agency. He cited making it easier to block robocalls and establishing a three-digit direct dial suicide prevention hotline with 988.

He said the cost of reconfiguring network architecture is a barrier to its establishment, but hopes the FCC can make 988 a viable and effective reality in the future.

 

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