The Coalition for Local Internet Choice and the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors asked for my view of the Federal Communications Commission’s pending order, proposing to cap the fees that state and local governments may charge for small-cell attachments. According to the FCC’s draft order, these price‐caps will save the industry $2 billion in costs to operate in metropolitan areas—which will translate into $2.5 billion in new wireless investment, primarily in rural areas. Here are my concerns:
[Speech] On of the two historic accomplishments of the current Federal Communications Commission is that it is the first FCC to interpret its statutory mandate to say it doesn’t have much legal authority or policy rights to regulate broadcasters, telephone companies, cable companies, or wireless companies. Instead, its principal regulatory mandate is to regulate another set of enterprises: local governments.
Where are we in terms of closing the seven gaps that we think of, or should think of, as the elements of the digital divide? The seven gaps are the rural access gap, the affordability gap, the operating gap of very high-cost rural providers, the adoption gap, the institutional gap, the cable/copper gap, and the utilization gap. We could be using the network to improve outcomes in education, health care, government services, public safety, carbon reduction, civic engagement, and other public purposes. But to do achieve those goals, we need to close all seven broadband gaps.
There is reason for optimism about the federal government stepping up to create a policy framework for artificial intelligence (AI) that will keep us safe while enabling innovations that will improve all our lives. But, beneath the surface, there is a shark in the water, ready to obstruct any congressional or administrative action. That shark is the Supreme Court’s “major questions doctrine.” Although Members of Congress have proposed to establish a new federal commission to protect consumers.
Millions of Americans could be affected by thousands of miles of toxic telephone cables. These old cables, legacies from the pre-internet, dial-up telephone era, are sheathed in lead, an element found to be toxic in humans.
As businesses and governments race to make sense of the impacts of new, powerful AI systems, governments around the world are jostling to take the lead on regulation. Business leaders should be focused on who is likely to win this race, more so than the questions of how or even when AI will be regulated.
Today, government officials have new strategic decisions to make just as momentous as the ones the intersection of policy and technology dumped in our Federal Communications Commission laps back in the early 1990’s. As we look out on a future in which more and more of our economic and civic activity involves online communications, we should not forget there is an urgent and critical task: eliminating the digital divide.
In his most recent State of the Union address, President Joe Biden highlighted the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program for connecting unserved and underserved locations to broadband. However, in the same address, President Biden went on to declare that “when we do these projects, we’re going to buy American...I’m also announcing new standards to require all construction materials used in federal infrastructure projects to be made in America.” The problem is that the country can close the rural digital divide in the next few years, or it can enforce a strict
History always renders a powerful and positive verdict for any group that understands that there are some things that cannot be allowed to divide a nation. And then acts to close that divide. I don’t want claim that the achieving universal broadband connectivity has the same moral imperative as ending slavery or drastically reducing poverty. But it is no small thing. And sometimes things that are not front-page news, overtime have enormous impacts.
The North Star of communications policy should be to make services faster, better, and cheaper for all. Yet, next year, about 50 million Americans could find that their access to the core communications service of our time—broadband—has become slower, worse, and more expensive, with many even likely to be disconnected. That shift would constitute the biggest step any country has ever taken to widen, rather than close, its digital divide. The reason for the potential debacle?