On Jan. 23, 2017, Ajit Pai was confirmed as the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. In the first weeks of his new role, Chairman Pai has sought to undertake some reforms of FCC (News - Alert) internal processes to improve transparency and accountability in the FCC’s internal administrative processes. The new chairman has also focused on his “Digital Empowerment Agenda,” which we expect will provide a roadmap of where he wants to take the commission over the coming months and years.
First, to bring broadband and digital opportunity to the most economically challenged areas, Chairman Pai has proposed the creation of Gigabit Opportunity Zones, where particular emphasis would be placed to incentivize broadband deployment. He has proposed that any area where the average household income falls below 75 percent of national median could qualify. In those areas, he would call on state and local lawmakers to adopt streamlined, broadband deployment-friendly policies, with a focus on tax incentives to spur private-sector gigabit broadband deployment and job creation (through targeted reductions of payroll taxes).
Likewise, to extend digital opportunity to rural America, Chairman Pai has proposed a plan aimed at increasing the buildout obligations of wireless carriers and to incentivize rural broadband investment. He has also proposed removing regulatory barriers to broadband deployment to ease market entry, including state and local barriers to deployment, reduction of pole attachment rates, and adoption of “dig once” policies so that broadband conduit is deployed as part of every road and highway construction project.
We expect that the transition in leadership at the commission will continue in the coming months, and that a primary focus of the commission will be to review policies aimed at fostering innovation and reducing regulatory burdens on infrastructure and Internet communications providers.
William B. Wilhelm (News - Alert) is a partner and Jeffrey R. Strenkowski is of counsel at the global law firm of Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP.
Edited by Alicia Young