FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was unable to make it to Toronto for The 2017 Canadian Telecom Summit, but he sent a special video message, addressing the conference’s themes of Competition, Innovation and Investment and what the FCC is doing to promote each.
Greetings from Washington, DC, and thank you for this opportunity to address The 2017 Canadian Telecom Summit.
I’m sorry that I cannot be there in person. Mark Goldberg feels like a kindred spirit to me. He’s from Parsons, Kansas and moved to Toronto; I lived in Toronto and eventually moved to Parsons. And the last time I attended, I had the pleasure of listening to and learning from my good friend, former CRTC Commissioner Raj Shoan.
Let me begin by thanking our Canadian counterparts for your long standing friendship and collaboration on telecom issues. Our recent incentive auction is just the latest example. We jointly developed a uniform North American band plan for UHF TV signals and the new 600 MHz wireless band, paving the way for cross-border inter-operability of devices and networks. I look forward to continuing to work together to craft solutions that benefit Americans and Canadians alike.
Now, I see that the theme for this year’s Summit is Competition, Innovation and Investment, so I will take the radical step of talking about Competition, Innovation and Investment and what the FCC is doing to promote each.
Let me start with innovation. We begin with the premise that breakthrough advances are going to come from private sector entrepreneurs, not government policy makers. We want to empower inventors to bring their ideas to life. Now often that just means getting government out of the way. That also means promoting competitive markets and providing key inputs, like spectrum, that aid the incentives to create.
So, what exactly are we doing? For starters, we are reviewing the FCC’s rules across the board, from media to wireline, and deciding which ones still make sense in the digital age. As part of this review we are asking whether the costs of a rule outweigh the benefits. When the facts warrant, we won’t hesitate to revise overly burdensome rules or repeal them altogether. We’ve also put in place a process to ensure that, if an innovator seeks FCC approval of a new technology or service, we’ll make a decision within one year. That’s light-speed in our world.
We also began the process of allowing television broadcasters to use the next generation TV standard, ATSC 3.0, on a voluntary market-driven basis. This standard, which marries the best features of broadcasting and the internet, would allow broadcasters to fully enter the digital era.
On the spectrum front, we moved quickly to open up nearly 11 GHz of spectrum in the bands above 24 GHz for mobile use. This gives operators a clear path to launching 5G and other innovative millimeter wave services in the United States. And we’re currently considering opening up even more of this spectrum.
Now, as we move to 5G, regulators also must recognize something many people often don’t. Innovation isn’t limited to the so-called edge of networks. Innovation within networks is also critical, especially in the mobile space. To realize the digital future, we need smart infrastructure, not dumb pipes.
And that brings me to investment. For almost two decades, the FCC pursued a light touch approach to regulation, one that produced tremendous investment and innovation throughout our entire internet ecosystem, from the core of our networks to providers at the edge. But two years ago, the US Government’s approach suddenly changed. The FCC, on a party-line vote, decided to slap an old regulatory framework, called Title II (after the section of our statute where the rules are found) originally designed in the 1930’s for the Ma Bell telephone monopoly, upon thousands of internet service providers, big and small.
We’ve already begun to see the harms from this shift to more heavy-handed regulation. From 2014 to 2016, the broadband infrastructure investment in the United States dropped, the first decline ever, outside of a recession. Last month, the FCC voted to initiate a process to reverse the Title II decision and seek public input on how to secure the Open Internet that we all favour. I enter this process with an open mind, and we will go where the facts lead us, but I’m confident that this move puts us on the path to more broadband infrastructure investment, which would mean more Americans with high-speed internet access, more jobs building those networks, and more competition, the third topic that I wanted to discuss.
When it comes to competition, small ISPs are critical to meeting consumers hope for a more vibrant broadband marketplace and closing the digital divide. But the simple reality is that the smallest providers simply don’t have the means or the margins to withstand the Title II regulatory onslaught. Now, since we launched our proceeding, 22 small ISPs, each of which has about 1,000 broadband customers or fewer, told the FCC that the Title II order and utility-style regulation had affected their ability to obtain financing. They said that it had slowed, if not halted, the development and deployment of innovative new offerings, which would benefit our customers. And they said that Title II hung like a black cloud over their businesses.
In my first week as Chairman of the FCC, I proposed to relieve small ISPs from costly and overly burdensome reporting requirements associated with the Title II order. Reversing that Title II order altogether would encourage smaller competitors to enter the broadband marketplace or expand their networks. This would mean more competitive choices for the American people.
In short, America’s approach to broadband policy will be practical, not ideological. We’ll embrace what works, and dispense with what doesn’t. That means removing barriers to innovation and investment, instead of creating new ones. That means taking targeted action to address real problems in the marketplace, instead of imposing broad preemptive regulations. And that means respecting principles of economics, physics and law, and acting with humility as we regulate one of the most dynamic marketplaces history has ever known. This vision will unleash the massive investments that the digital world demands.
I am proud to reaffirm my nation’s commitment to promoting more competition, innovation and investment.
And I look forward to working with all of you to bring the benefits of the digital revolution to the people of Canada and the United States.
Thank you very much.