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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to Step Down on Inauguration Day, Saying ‘It’s Time for a New Adventure’

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Screenshot of Ajit Pai at the Columbia University Federalist Society event

November 30, 2020 — Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on Monday announced today that he would step down from his current role when President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated on January 20, 2021.

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve at the Federal Communications Commission,” said Pai of his eight years working at the United States’ telecommunications regulatory agency, in a statement issued Monday morning.

See what industry groups have to say about “Broadband in a Biden Administration” on Wednesday, December 2, 2020, during Broadband Breakfast Live Online

Pai was appointed to the FCC as a commissioner in 2012 by President Barack Obama and was promoted to chairman in 2017 by President Donald Trump.

The soon-to-be former chairman made an appearance in a webinar hosted by Columbia Law School’s Federalist Society on Monday, during which he expanded on his written notice and his time spent at the FCC.

Pai noted the tumultuous political environment he was thrust into, detailing what it was like to serve under two very different presidential administrations.

“With the exception of a few high profile matters, the FCC has been immune from the political partisanship” that effects other spheres of government, said Pai, who stood by his 2017 decision to repeal net neutrality, claiming that a market-based framework serves consumers best.

According to Pai, the day-to-day tasks of the agency have remained largely the same through fluctuations in government.“ The bread-and-butter work that we do has generally not been something that is politically affiliated,” said Pai, adding that the progress the agency has made on bipartisan matters is what he is happiest to consider a part of his legacy.

Pai touts his work on the digital divide

Pai said he was most proud of the agency’s efforts to close the digital divide, expressing it was the number one way he felt he impacted society. He recalled connecting tribal lands in the middle of a low-income region of Wyoming to high-speed gigabit broadband service.

Pai noted that under his leadership the United States set consecutive records for new fiber deployment in 2018 and 2019, with the number of homes passed by fiber increasing by 5.9 million, and then by 6.5 million the following year.

Spectrum auction accelerated

He further recalled that the agency has held five successful spectrum auctions in the past four years, after only holding one in the four years Pai served as a commissioner under the Obama administration.

Pai recognized that the work he and his fellow commissioners did to designate ’988’ as the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. He also touted his efforts to ensure that rates for interstate and international phone calls are reasonable for incarcerated individuals, will be some of his most impactful.

Pai recognized a change in the communications landscape over the course of his career at the FCC, adding that he believes communications regulation must change to meet the moment.

Social media enters the FCC maelstrom

As the first member of the FCC on Twitter in 2012, Pai watched social media sites develop into what they have become today, recalling that in 2012, “no one could criticize social media corporations.”

Yet today there is bipartisan recognition that change is needed. Pai said “it will be interesting to see what Congress will do to regulate big tech.”

Pai detailed the personal thought process behind his October statement on Section 230, which claimed that the FCC does have the legal authority to interpret the terms of Section 230, saying that “there is currently no transparency about how social media companies are making decisions when it comes to content regulation.”

Pai said “the rule making would have allowed the FCC to question broader things, like what it means for social media sites to regulate sites in terms of ‘good faith.’”

Pai offered advice to his successor, whomever it might be, urging that the future FCC chair make efforts to spend time with the FCC’s staff.

“I’m proud to say I’ve done that, and it enabled us to work better as a unit,” said Pai, who referred to the FCC’s staff as the agency’s best asset.

As for what lies ahead, Pai said he is still considering his options and “taking time to think about it.”

“It’s been a great run but it’s time for a new adventure,” said Pai, who joked about potentially replacing Judge Judy or becoming a slot receiver for Kansas City Chiefs.

Plaudits received from industry groups

“Throughout his tenure, and never more so than during these challenging days of the pandemic, Chairman Pai has prioritized bridging the digital divide and connecting all Americans everywhere to 21st century communications networks,” said Jonathan Spalter, US Telecom CEO. “Our nation’s broadband providers who invest in innovation, dig the trenches, pull the fiber, and climb the poles share that commitment.”

“We commend Chairman Pai for his exceptional stewardship of the Federal Communications Commission,” said NCTA CEO Michael Powell, himself a former FCC chairman. “He set a clear vision for his tenure and the industry and pursued it with purpose, transparency, scholarly rigor and courage.

“During his time as chairman he frequently faced overheated criticism and personal attacks that have become sadly common in the sphere of policymaking,” said Powell of NCTA, which also goes by the name of Internet and Television Association. “During his tenure, Chairman Pai pushed for policies that spurred investment and innovation in our nation’s communications networks while also expanding the benefits of broadband to all Americans.”

“Chairman Pai has been a huge champion of the fixed wireless industry, with his FCC’s tireless efforts to identify, free-up and share spectrum that would otherwise have gone fallow,” said Claude Aiken, CEO of the Wireless Internet Service Provider Association. “He helped keep regulation low, and worked to remove other related burdens, which was especially helpful for our small WISP members.  And his dedication to reducing the digital divide, in particular in rural America, is without parallel.” 

See what industry groups have to say about “Broadband in a Biden Administration” on Wednesday, December 2, 2020, during Broadband Breakfast Live Online

Former Assistant Editor Jericho Casper graduated from the University of Virginia studying media policy. She grew up in Newport News in an area heavily impacted by the digital divide. She has a passion for universal access and a vendetta against anyone who stands in the way of her getting better broadband. She is now Associate Broadband Researcher at the Institute for Local Self Reliance's Community Broadband Network Initiative.

FCC

Cable Group NCTA Says Deny Exclusive Multitenant Access, But Not Wiring, Agreements

NCTA said the FCC should deny exclusive access to these buildings, but not exclusive wiring agreements.

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Michael Powell, president and CEO of NCTA

WASHINGTON, September 8, 2021 – The internet and television association NCTA is suggesting that the Federal Communications Commission deny all broadband providers exclusive access to multitenant buildings, but to continue allowing exclusive wiring agreements.

On Tuesday, the FCC opened a new round of comments into its examination of competitive broadband options for residents of apartments, multi-tenant and office buildings.

In a Tuesday ex parte notice to the commission, which follows a formal meeting with agency staff on September 2, the NCTA said the record shows that deployment, competition, and consumer choice in multiple tenant environments “are strong,” and that the FCC can “promote even greater deployment and competition by prohibiting not just cable operators, other covered [multiple video programming distributors], and telecommunications carriers, but all broadband providers from entering into MTE exclusive access agreements.

The organization, whose member companies include Comcast, Cox Communications and Charter Communications, also said it should continue to allow providers to enter into exclusive wiring agreements with MTE owners. Wiring just means that the provider can lay down its cables, like fiber, to connect residents.

“Exclusive wiring agreements do not deny new entrants access to MTEs. Rather, exclusive wiring agreements are pro-competitive and help ensure that state-of-the-art wiring will be deployed in MTEs to the benefit of consumers.”

The NCTA also told the FCC that there would be technical problems with simultaneous sharing of building wires by different providers and vouched for exclusive marketing arrangements, according to the notice.

The FCC’s new round of comments comes after a bill, introduced on July 30 by Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-New York, outlined plans to address exclusivity agreements between residential units and service providers, which sees providers lock out other carriers from buildings and leaving residents with only one option for internet.

Reached for comment on the filing, a spokesman for NCTA said they had nothing to add to the filing, which was signed by Mary Beth Murphy, deputy general counsel to the cable organization.

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China

Hytera’s Inclusion on FCC’s National Security Blacklist ‘Absurd,’ Client Says

Diversified Communications Group said the FCC flubbed on adding Hytera to blacklist.

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Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, September 8, 2021 – A client of a company that has been included in a list of companies the Federal Communications Commission said pose threats to the security of the country’s networks is asking the agency to reconsider including the company.

In a letter to the commission on Tuesday, Diversified Communications Group, which installs and distributes two-way radio communications devices to large companies, said the inclusion of Hytera Communications Corporation, a Chinese manufacturer of radio equipment, on a list of national security threats is “absurd” because the hardware involved is not connected to the internet and “does not transmit any sensitive or proprietary data.

“It seems that Hytera has been lumped in with other Chinese companies on the Covered List simply because they happen to manufacture electronics in the same country,” Diversified’s CEO Ryan Holte said in the letter, adding Hytera’s products have helped Diversified’s business thrive.

“This is a wrong that should be righted. Hytera is not a national security risk. They are an essential business partner to radio companies throughout the U.S.,” the CEO added.

In March, the FCC announced that it had designated Hytera among other Chinese businesses with alleged links to the Communist government. Others included Huawei, ZTE, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology, and Dahua Technology.

List among a number of restrictions on Chinese companies

This list of companies was created in accordance with the Secure Networks Act, and the FCC indicated that it would continue to add companies to the list if they are deemed to “pose an unacceptable risk to national security or the security and safety of U.S. persons.”

Last month, the Senate commerce committee passed through legislation that would compel the FCC to no longer issue new equipment licenses to China-backed companies.

Last year the U.S. government took steps to ensure that federal agencies could not purchase goods or services from the aforementioned companies, and had previously added them to an economic blacklist.

In July, the FCC voted in favor of putting in place measures that would require U.S. carriers to rip and replace equipment by these alleged threat companies.

The Biden administration has been making moves to isolate alleged Chinese-linked threats to the country’s networks. In June, the White House signed an executive order limiting investments in predominantly Chinese companies that it said poses a threat to national security.

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Digital Inclusion

FCC Says 5 Million Households Now Enrolled in Emergency Broadband Benefit Program

The $3.2 billion program provides broadband and device subsidies to eligible low-income households.

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Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

August 30, 2021—The Federal Communications Commission announced Friday that five million households have enrolled in the Emergency Broadband Benefit program.

The $3.2-billion program, which launched in May, provides a broadband subsidy of $50 per month to eligible low-income households and $75 per month for those living on native tribal lands, as well as a one-time reimbursement on a device. Over 1160 providers are participating, the FCC said, who are reimbursed the cost to provide the discounted services.

The agency has been updating the public on the number of participating households for the program. In June, the program was at just over three million and had passed four million last month. The program was part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

“Enrolling five million households into the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program in a little over three months is no small feat,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “This wouldn’t have been possible without the support of nearly 30,000 individuals and organizations who signed up as volunteer outreach partners.”

Rosenworcel added that conversations with partners and the FCC’s analysis shows the need for “more granular data” to bring these opportunities to more eligible families.

The program’s strong demand was seen as far back as March.

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