Op-Ed: FCC to vote on orders to spur continued broadband investment, better access

Chairman Ajit Pai has set an agenda for the October meeting of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that will further aid the growth of broadband infrastructure in America.

First, the commission will consider in detail three issues related to the Restoring Internet Freedom Order (RIF), first passed in 2017. The FCC will discuss the order’s effect on public safety, on its ability to regulate pole attachments and on the Lifeline program’s ability to support broadband.

After the FCC passed the RIF Order in an effort to reduce regulatory burdens on internet service providers (ISPs), restoring the previous bipartisan, market-based approach, a consortium of Democratic attorneys general sued the commission in an attempt to reverse the decision. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the vast majority of the FCC’s decision, but asked the commission to consider the order’s effect on those three narrow issues.

The FCC put out a public notice seeking input, and Pai wrote in Medium recently that based on the feedback received he is confident the regulatory framework the FCC set forth in the RIF order adequately addresses each issue.

“It affirms that the FCC stands by the Restoring Internet Freedom Order,” he said of the order that will be considered at the October meeting, “consistent with the practical reality consumers have experienced since December 2017 of an Internet economy that is better, stronger, and freer than ever.”

Pai noted that the U.S. set records for annual fiber deployment in 2018 and 2019 and that the average download speed for fixed broadband has doubled since the RIF Order passed. Bandwidth hogs such as Netflix have been asked to throttle speeds in other countries during the pandemic, but that tactic wasn’t needed in the U.S. thanks, in part, to robust broadband infrastructure development in the past three years and the light-touch regulatory regime in place in previous decades.

TechFreedom General Counsel James Dunstan said the FCC’s current regulatory regime has proven to spur more private investment, resulting in better broadband deployment that benefits the public safety community.

“While Title II proponents will again claim that the sky is falling and that the Internet will break any second unless the FCC returns to heavy-handed Title II regulation, the way in which the Internet (and ISPs) has functioned during the COVID pandemic is a testament to how much quicker private companies can react to crises than can government agencies,” he said.

The FCC will also consider an order to make more precious electromagnetic spectrum available in what is known as television “white spaces” to provide additional wireless broadband coverage, while still protecting incumbent television broadcasters.

White space channels are largely untapped gaps in low-band spectrum below 700 MHz, often between the spectrums of television stations. They’ve often been referred to as “buffer” channels and were placed between active television channels to prevent broadcasting interference. The FCC made these channels available for unlicensed public use in 2010.

White space signals can travel much farther than a typical Wi-Fi signal – 750 meters and up for white spaces compared to 300 meters or less for Wi-Fi – and can better pass through buildings and other obstacles, leading some to refer to white spaces as “Super Wi-Fi.”

Because of that wide coverage area, white spaces have the potential to cover entire communities, likely connecting consumers who currently have no to little internet access. And because white spaces require much less infrastructure, the service can be provided more cheaply than other forms of internet. This could be particularly useful in rural communities where it’s cost prohibitive for providers to install fiber to reach the end of sparsely populated roads where there aren’t enough customers to pay back the investment.

The FCC’s October order on white spaces would modify the rules to facilitate the development of Internet of Things (IOT) in white spaces. The IOT is the concept that as our internet connections become more robust, more and more machines, from everyday devices to transportation to manufacturing, will have their efficiency optimized by near-real time connections to the network.

“We expect that these changes will spur continued growth of the white space ecosystem and help to close the digital divide,” Pai wrote.

Moves like these should prove as treats, rather than tricks, for taxpayers. Such light-touch regulatory decisions will continue to spur increases in broadband investment without extra taxpayer cost, and will benefit all Americans by providing better access to high-speed internet.

* This article was originally published here

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