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Coronavirus Roundup: Aji Pai on Pandemic, T-Mobile Approval, Navajo Nation Temporary Spectrum

David Jelke

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Photo of Ajit Pai in June 2017 by Lance Cheung of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

In an online speech Friday by Federal Communications Chairman Ajit Pai before the Interamerican Development Bank and The International Institute Of Communications Online Workshop, Pai encapsulated his thoughts on ”Regulation in Times of Pandemics: Lessons for the Future.”

Below is an edited version of his remarks.

In many ways, we’re still building the plane while flying it. Recognizing that it’s hard to say anything definitive only a few weeks into a fluid situation, I’d like to walk you through the FCC’s guiding principles as we’ve approached this challenge.

Number one, set clear priorities.

Looking at the landscape in early March, a few things became clear. First, social distancing was going to force huge segments of our economy and daily lives to move online, making it more important than ever that Americans have Internet access.

And, second, social distancing would create massive temporary job losses and furloughs, putting millions of Americans at risk of missing bill payments and having their Internet and telephone service cut off.

So, we decided that our top priority was to make sure that as many Americans as possible have Internet access and that that no American would have their Internet and voice service cut off because of the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guiding principle number two: use markets before mandates.

In times of crisis, I understand how some might be tempted to look for any lever they can find to compel private companies to carry out the government’s goals. But with the coronavirus pandemic, the FCC chose a different path. Specifically, we called on broadband and telephone service providers to take what we call our Keep Americans Connected pledge.

The third principle is to use every tool in the toolkit. None of the FCC’s programs was developed with a pandemic in mind, but all of them sure can help.

Fourth principle: During an emergency, act like it’s an emergency. The FCC has put a premium on making decisions as quickly as possible. We’re talking days, not months or years.

Fifth principle: put your people first. The health and safety of FCC employees is paramount to me

California Public Utility Commission approves T-Mobile/Sprint merger

The California Public Utilities Commission approved the merger of Sprint Communications Company and T-Mobile on Thursday, with extensive conditions to mitigate the potential adverse impacts on competition.

The conditions also ensure that T-Mobile provides faster speeds, broader coverage, job creation, and offerings for low-income customers.

Thursday’s decision found that the merger would provide robust 5G wireless communication service network that could compete with the two larger existing wireless carriers, AT&T and Verizon.

The commission found the following benefits:

  • Provide 5G wireless service with speeds of at least 100 Mbps to 99 percent of California’s population by the end of 2026, and 300 Mbps to 93 percent by the end of 2024.
  • Provide 5G wireless service with speeds of at least 100 Mbps to 85 percent of California’s rural population, and speeds of at least 50 Mbps available to 94 percent of California’s rural population, by the end of 2026.
  • Have fixed home Internet access available to at least 2.3 million California households, of which at least 123,000 are rural households, within six years.
  • Maintain or improve current 4G LTE service quality and coverage for existing customers during the transition to 5G.
  • Offer the low-income California LifeLine program for as long as it operates in California, and enroll at least 300,000 new LifeLine customers.
  • Increase jobs in California by at least 1,000 compared to the total number of current Sprint and T-Mobile employees.
  • Other important commitments relating to diversity, reporting, and rural infrastructure deployment.

CPUC Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen noted, “A critical part of this deal is the benefits it provides for our neediest consumers, by ensuring that T-Mobile continues LifeLine service and enrolls at least 300,000 new LifeLine customers.”

FCC grants Navajo Nation temporary spectrum during pandemic

The FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau granted an emergency Special Temporary Authority request on Friday filed by the Navajo Nation, according to a press release.

The request will allow the Navajo Nation to use unassigned spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band to provide wireless broadband service over its reservation as part of its emergency COVID-19 pandemic response.  The tribal entity is located within parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.  The temporary grant of authority is effective for 60 days.

“As with any community—rural or urban—tribal members are having to work from home and to rely increasingly on telemedicine and remote learning as they practice social distancing to minimize the spread of the virus on their reservations,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

“This additional spectrum should help the leaders of the Navajo Nation meet the needs of its people during this challenging time.  I wish all the Navajo people health and wellness, and I remain committed to helping them bridge the digital divide.”

The FCC also noted that it continues to accept applications from eligible tribal entities for licensed access to unassigned 2.5 GHz spectrum over their rural Lands in the Rural Tribal Priority Window, which closes August 3, 2020.

The grant of emergency temporary access to 2.5 GHz spectrum will not affect the availability of such spectrum to eligible Tribal applicants for purposes of the Rural Tribal Priority Window.

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