January 14, 2021 – Many “thank you’s” and pats on the back accompanied Ajit Pai’s last Open Commission Meeting as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.
Set to depart the agency next week, Pai utilized time during his final meeting on Wednesday to stress the importance of eliminating the digital divide and emphasize the significance of the United States leading in 5G technology development.
While three important items were on the agenda, the commissioners chose to make the tough decisions ahead of time, adopting all three items prior to the meeting. The FCC announced the move Tuesday evening, cutting the items from the schedule.
Prior to Wednesday’s cavalcade of achievements, Commissioners adopted proposals on how to structure an auction of 2.5 Gigahertz airwaves, a notice announcing winners of a $100 million telehealth effort, and more.
The first adopted item was a public announcement for selecting the first round of victors of the $100 million Connected Care Pilot Program, which provides Universal Service Fund support for health care providers, allowing delivery of telehealth services directly to low-income patients.
The commission further voted regarding the process of competitive bidding for an auction in the 2.5 GHz band, which the FCC reported is the largest contiguous spectrum under 3.0 GHz in the United States, and is especially available in many rural areas.
Commissioners adopted a more contentious item when they advanced a notice of proposed rulemaking that considers repurposing some 12 GHz satellite airwaves for 5G wireless.
Although some advocacy groups, Dish Network and Dell CEO Michael Dell, who holds a cut of these airwaves, had rallied to open the spectrum for 5G, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk lobbied Pai directly multiple times to back off.
The meeting included review of the Media Bureau and Incentive Auction teams’ accomplishments since late January 2017
What did make the cut for the meeting were reports from offices that comprise the FCC. The commissioners heard five presentations from agency staff summing up Trump-era efforts, with many congratulations coming from staff members in-between, as a farewell to Pai.
Some highlights from the reports include:
- The challenge of shifting use in bands for 5G mobile networks, such as the 12 GHz band that they voted on previous to the meeting.
- Addressing the digital divide between rural and urban areas and low-income residents who lack access to affordable, high-speed broadband.
- The recent C-Band auction is up to over $80 billion, much higher than any other auction, as reported by the Office of Economics and Analytics.
- According to the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau, the number of Americans who lack access to broadband is down by 46% since 2016, as measured at 25/3 Mbps download/upload speeds. Although as reported in December 2020, that number may be off.
Notably in attendance for the first time on Wednesday was Commissioner Nathan Simington Pai extended a warm welcome and “open arms” to the newest member of the Commission, in is early remarks.
Simington is a Trump nominee, succeeding Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, who has been criticized by many as having been elected solely for his stance on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.