FCC’s fall cleaning will enable faster broadband growth

Originally published at Washington Examiner

Fall is the season when homeowners everywhere clear out the thick underbrush of leaves and twigs from their yards. When the process is done, the reward is a clean, attractive lawn.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has been busy this season doing something similar – taking an axe to unnecessary regulatory underbrush that has slowed the deployment of fast broadband around the country. Just recently, Chairman Pai put forward a detailed set of reforms in a proposed rulemaking; all are designed to remove roadblocks and bugs in the regulatory system that delay too many Americans from getting the fast broadband they need and want.

One of Pai’s objectives is to accelerate the ongoing technology transition away from legacy copper wires to Internet Protocol-based fiber technology. The longer this transition takes, the greater the number of Americans who will be denied access to high-speed broadband. Network operators should not be required to maintain antiquated, copper-based infrastructure if they invest and deploy modern, fiber-based broadband technology.

To that end, the FCC aims to reverse an Obama Administration rule that has delayed carriers from rationalizing the offerings they make to customers. The FCC plans to modernize a provision, Section 214 of the Communications Act, originally designed to prevent the phone monopoly from discontinuing universal service to anyone.

Obviously, the end of copper does not mean the end of voice service. The FCC’s proposed reforms would help carriers concentrate their capital on high-speed broadband that today enables a variety of data and voice services at 25 Mbps or greater download speed. If a legacy service has no customers, why should carriers be mandated to offer it? That’s the goal of modernizing the agency’s discontinuance rules — to spur greater investment in next-generation broadband.

Achieving ubiquitous broadband also means that, beyond investment, carriers must also be able to bring those new services to customers swiftly. Accordingly, the FCC is about to reform its rules on the attachment of broadband wires to utility poles, including creation of a 180-day “shot clock” to resolve disputes. Half a year may appear a bit too long for FCC dispute resolution, but this action is still a major step in the right direction. Moreover, the FCC plans to also level the playing field among service providers by clarifying that Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers have the same rights of access to utility poles that other carriers currently have.

The FCC is taking action on wireless infrastructure, as well – specifically, The FCC is taking action on wireless infrastructure, as well – specifically, to help the transition to 5G networks. As Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said, 5G moves “from a world where we all have our wireless devices in our pockets to one where our entire landscape will be connected to the Internet of Things.”

In 5G deployments, base stations will be far smaller than they are now, but also much closer together. Many will need to be attached to utility poles, but the process to gain attachment to the poles for 5G technology is currently cumbersome and prone to serious delays. The FCC would preempt reviews for “historic preservation” except when they are actually related to properties subject to historic preservation. Given that upgrading to 5G could take several years and up to $275 billion in private-sector investment, any action to accelerate these deployments has to start now.

It’s a two-pronged approach – wireless and wireline – to meeting the nation’s broadband needs.

The proper regulatory framework will increase investment in the right sort of technology – the technology that people want. And that investment leads to jobs in deploying the fiber, managing the network, and achieving the multiplier effects that lead to greater productivity, expanding the economy to generate even more jobs.

It’s hard to think of a job today that does not require broadband literacy or that is not made more productive by the power of broadband. That’s why the FCC is acting – to give everyone the same opportunities in the broadband economy. Even if some of these reforms seem a bit arcane, they are powerful steps toward encouraging carriers to invest as rapidly as possible, to reach customers with better service offerings.

Clearing out underbrush in the fall prepares the way for new growth in the spring. Just so, this set of reforms will institute the right policies for technology transitions in telecommunications and help accelerate a spring of faster broadband and deeper broadband-led economic growth.

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