LAS VEGAS—In his first appearance as FCC Chairman at the Consumer Technology Association’s annual CES trade show and conference here, Ajit Pai—whose scheduled appearance last year was cancelled because of a federal government partial shutdown—said that 5G deployment is “absolutely” a national priority and that continuing to execute on the FCC’s “5G Fast” plan is an important priority for the agency.
Asked by CTA President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Shapiro about the need for unlicensed spectrum for Wi-Fi and other innovative services, Chairman Pai remarked that “20 years ago, very few people would have thought that one of the factors people would think about when checking into a hotel room would be whether there’s Wi-Fi.”
He noted the need for unlicensed spectrum for Bluetooth, AR/VR (augmented reality/virtual reality), and other technologies. “Our goal is to remove spectrum as one of the constraints on innovation,” the Chairman said.
Mr. Shapiro asked what impediments the agency faces in allocating spectrum for unlicensed use.
Chairman Pai said that during his time in Washington, he has learned that there are “three things you don’t discuss in polite society: religion, politics, and sharing of spectrum.”
However, he added, there has “got to be a way to share,” and that in the end, “spectrum is a public asset.”
Asked whether he would recommend any changes in spectrum policy to Congress, Mr. Pai said that Congress could help by “creating more clarity [about sharing]. … There’s not a lot of spectrum out there. We need to think creatively about sharing, and that’s something Congress could work on.”
Mr. Shapiro asked if technology for sharing needs to develop.
Chairman Pai responded, “I think it’s already developed. Think about things like massive MIMO [multiple-input, multiple-output] [which enables users] to split the use of spectrum so you’re essentially using the same spectrum to deliver content to different people.”
Noting the FCC’s initial designation of Huawei Technologies Co. and ZTE Corp. as covered companies from which equipment and services may not be purchased with Universal Service Fund support, Mr. Shapiro asked how 5G can be deployed quickly without those vendors.
Chairman Pai said, “People are working here in the United States and elsewhere to virtualize the infrastructure. … If you think about it, software is something the U.S. has traditionally led on. Using the software layer to address security and reduce cost is a win-win for everybody.”
He noted that 5G deployment faces a number of constraints, including “the scale of the network you have to build,” obtaining spectrum, and finding “the work crews [to build] the networks.”
Mr. Shapiro asked whether the workforce problem is because highly skilled labor is needed, or because the economy is at full employment.
Chairman Pai said, “The work is highly demanding. … It’s very hard work outside [up a tower with heavy equipment].”
Asked about his agenda for the next 12 months, Chairman Pai said he plans for the agency to “continue to execute on 5G Fast and deploy broadband.” He also mentioned carrying out plans to implement “988” as the national dialing code for a mental health and suicide hotline, including looking at “what telecom companies have to do in their network architecture to make it work.”
Mr. Shapiro asked whether the “sky has fallen” since the FCC’s 2017 restoring Internet freedom (RIF) order that rolled back 2015 open Internet rules.
Chairman Pai said that it has not. On the contrary, “thanks to our efforts, more Americans, than ever before, faster than ever before, can connect to the Internet to hate-tweet their favorite FCC Commissioner.”
He said the agency tracks complaints about issues like throttling and that “the trend line is positive.”
“I view with amusement that I get emails and tweets saying ‘you destroyed the Internet’ over the Internet,” the Chairman added. —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]
MainStory: FederalNews FCC SpectrumAllocation Cybersecurity NetNeutrality WirelessDeployment
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