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Digital Inclusion

Federal Communications Commission’s Top Priority is Closing Digital Divide, Says Ajit Pai

Elijah Labby

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Photo of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in July 2018 by ITU Pictures used with permission

June 25, 2020 — Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on Thursday reiterated how important it is to the agency to close the digital divide.

Closing the divide has been at the top of his list of priorities since he first joined the agency, Pai said during a speech at Carnegie Mellon University..

“[While] we have many important things on our plate, nothing is more important than closing the digital divide [and] making sure that every American has access to what I call digital opportunity,” he said.

When asked how he planned to close the divide, Pai said that he intended to continue being aggressive.

“I intend to be very bullish in the next several years in terms of the development of open or virtual RAN solutions,” he said. “It’s going to be a much more textured, much more nuanced 5G network architecture going forward.”

Pai also said that connecting small, underserved areas is vital to increasing access across the country and enabling those offline to work and learn remotely.

“The rubber meets the road out in places… that aren’t going to be on the front pages of the newspapers but are vital nonetheless to being able to say there is equal opportunity in this country,” he said.

However, Pai agreed with Bruce Mehlman, founding co-chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance, when he said that the FCC faces a challenge because the consumers that it is trying to connect are the least profitable.

“[They are] the worst [return on investment] customers,” Mehlman said, “but as someone who believes in economic opportunity, are arguably the most important customers to connect.”

Pai said that the first step toward connecting such populations is recognizing that it is an investment in the common good.

“It begins with a recognition that there are parts of this country that are never going to be economical to serve [because] the population is too sparse, or the average income is too low… and that’s where I think the FCC comes in,” he said.

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