It was a true treat and honor to have FCC Chairman Ajit Pai join NTCA and our members in New Orleans at our RTIME meeting to share his perspective and priorities for the state of rural broadband in our country, and the role that NTCA members play in ensuring forward movement on bridging the digital divide.
I loved having the “fireside” chat with the chairman and always appreciate his willingness to engage with our sector including the time he took before coming to the stage to spend some time with our board and policy leadership to hear the positive impact that the FCC’s Order on Universal Service is already having on expanded construction plans. It is hard to believe that it has been nearly five years since the chairman (then the newly sworn-in commissioner) came to an NTCA meeting and shared his heartfelt sentiment of “I am a rural American.” In subsequent actions and a passion for closing the digital divide, he has indeed walked the walk on supporting rural America. Today, he shared that his “Wish is for all of rural America to close the digital divide. I want to make sure rural America is front and center and not in the background during our decision making.”
During our discussion, the chairman and I were able to hit a number of topics including next steps for USF reform, spectrum issues, and the importance of spectrum access for rural providers. We touched on the accountability mechanism of performance testing. The chairman noted, “There’s a balance we are trying to strike. We want every USF dollar to be spent wisely…but we need to minimize the burden of this regulatory process.” I know that NTCA members appreciate his thoughtful approach.
Chairman Pai also swung by the hotel early this morning to grab a cup of coffee and chat with NTCA’s board of directors and policy leaders before speaking to the full membership. My favorite part of the discussion was when NTCA members shared the positive impact that the FCC’s recent Order will have on future construction plans as they continue to lead the way in bringing broadband and advanced services to those rural Americans who are still waiting, as well as their ability to continue upgrading their existing networks to meet growing consumer demand.
I was never more proud of the NTCA membership than when they gave the Chairman a standing ovation as he came to the stage today, and I certainly hope he felt the “love” on how important the continued success of the USF High-Cost program is to those who utilize it to build rural networks.