Economic Development

FCC Chairman Pai Supports ‘Free and Open’ Internet

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, says he favors “free and open” internet service that is guided by less regulation and more investment in broadband networks across the country.

“My vision is to carry forward that Clinton administration model of light-touch regulation,” Pai told reporters during a press conference Thursday at the Youngstown Business Incubator. “Let the marketplace develop.”

The chairman spent the morning meeting with five small technology businesses at the YBI before touring the America Makes additive manufacturing center.

Among the major concerns for small tech companies, especially startups, is the issue of “net neutrality.” In essence, net neutrality laws passed in 2015 treat the internet as a utility, allowing equal access to broadband service. Some consumers and small businesses fear that should these laws be repealed, it would drive up the costs for this service while giving an advantage to larger competitors.

However, Pai said, the current regulatory environment has led to less investment in new networks, that expanding these networks is a costly endeavor for major internet providers. “Capital expenditures from the top 12 internet service providers has gone down 5.6% over the last two years,” he said. This is the first decrease outside the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009.

Even smaller wireless providers said they, too, are holding back on new investments into broadband infrastructure and service because of these regulations, Pai said.

“We want to be careful in applying pre-emptive, heavy-handed rules that might stifle innovation and investment in networks,” he said. “We want to make sure every competitor, big and small, has the incentive to build networks.”

President Barack Obama appointed Pai to the FCC in 2012 and he was elevated to chairman by President Donald Trump in January. And Pai is no stranger to the Mahoning Valley – his wife is a native of Poland, where his in-laws still live.

Pai said he favors more of a targeted regulatory approach that focuses specifically on those companies found to abuse the rights of the consumer. “If there are problems that manifest themselves in a particular company, and are otherwise harming consumers or startups, you take targeted action,” he said.

Another important byproduct of increased investment is improved access to remote areas and rural communities, Pai said. One of his first decisions as chairman of the FCC, he told reporters, was to direct $170 million in funding to expand broadband to areas in upstate New York that lacked access.

Another proposal passed in Pai’s first full month was increasing 4G LTE mobile network availability across the country and updating rules to improve fixed broadband access. The FCC is intent on improving mobile networks and making available higher speed 5G wireless connections, he said.

Barb Ewing, chief operating officer of the YBI, said that she believed Pai left impressed with the work being done at the incubator and America Makes.

“The fact that so many companies were able to give that testimony of the ecosystem that exists here – the true innovation and collaboration – that left a very strong message,” she said.

The tour of America Makes gave Pai a glimpse of the future of manufacturing, which is becoming increasingly more reliant on connectivity. “Our focus is all about our connectedness,” he said, “and that’s going to be as true for manufacturing as it is for other types of commerce today.”

Pai described himself as taken with the diverse nature of the YBI’s portfolio companies and their ability to thrive here in the Mahoning Valley.

“Youngstown is on the move,” he told reporters. “There’s innovation and entrepreneurship that is happening here that the United States and the world should take notice of.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.