By Marty Stern
Earlier this week, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced the formation of a new Broadband Advisory Committee, calling for nominations by February 15, 2017. The mission of the new FCC federal advisory committee is to make recommendations to the Commission as to how to accelerate broadband deployment by reducing and/or removing regulatory barriers to infrastructure investment, and to exchange ideas and develop recommendations on broadband deployment. While the stated focus of the committee appears to be on removing regulatory barriers to deployment, particularly at the local level, and on what localities can do to promote broadband deployment, no doubt, the committee’s work will also address the permitting practices of state agencies (such as the right-of-way practices of state DOTs), as well as the practices of various federal agencies that have been a significant concern for the industry. We also expect that ways to streamline environmental and historic preservation reviews will be within the group’s purview.
More broadly, this effort is part of Chairman Pai’s stated agenda to close the digital divide (which some in the public interest community remain skeptical of), and, of course, the importance of broadband and 4G densification through small cell infrastructure deployment generally, as well as what he has referred to as his “digital empowerment agenda.” Chairman Pai indicated, while a Commissioner, that as part of that agenda, he would back efforts to create gigabit opportunity zones, boost rural mobile broadband, remove broadband regulatory barriers, and promote entrepreneurship and innovation.
Beyond the limited mission on removing regulatory barriers and steps governmental entities can take to promote broadband, this is a welcome part of a larger agenda, particularly given the broader focus of the Administration on infrastructure deployment. Interestingly, just following the Chairman’s rollout of his deployment agenda, the Chairman’s Republican colleague, Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, posted an entry to the FCC Blogon the potential pitfalls of federal broadband infrastructure spending – that is, beyond the federal Universal Service program. This could signal an area of potential disagreement between the Republican commissioners on the extent to which the Federal Government should be subsidizing broadband infrastructure deployment, and is certainly worth keeping an eye on.