LIVE FROM GSMA MOBILE WORLD CONGRESS AMERICAS: Describing the advent of 5G as a “hinge moment” and “the breakthrough we have all been waiting for”, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai said “the most concerning emerging issue we see is that investment in wireless network was down significantly in 2016”.
At the event’s opening keynote, he quoted a UBS Wireless 411 report which found investment was down 9 per cent, “a huge drop outside of a recession. This is even more ominous as we move from 4G to 5G.”
He claimed the most significant step the FCC has taken is to bring mobile broadband to millions of Americans with a $4.53 billion fund called the Mobility Fund Phase II.
However, he stated “the FCC’s most powerful tool for expanding digital opportunity is setting rules that maximise private investment in high-speed networks.”
The mobile marketplace is healthy, Pai noted, evidenced by the fact that subscriptions were up 5 per cent last year to about 400 million, which puts the mobile penetration rate at 121 per cent.
However, he warned “we’ve got work to do to close the digital divide and boost network investment. And we need to tackle these issues with an eye toward revving the virtuous cycle of faster, better networks that unleash new innovations that drive additional consumer demand.”
Of course, another burning issue the FCC is dealing with is net neutrality. On this, Pai said: “In our ‘Restoring Internet Freedom’ proceeding, the FCC is examining whether we should change our internet regulations to encourage greater deployment and investment. CTIA has weighed in to express your concerns that the current rules hinder network investment. We are analysing these and other comments — and there’s a lot of them — as we move toward a decision.”
The FCC received some 22 million comments from the public on the issue. Pai is looking to dismantle the rules set by the previous administration, which he believes hampered investment and widened the digital divide in the country.
At the keynote, he pointed out the need to not look at the proceeding in isolation: “It is just one part of a comprehensive review of how to encourage the construction and expansion of next-generation networks.”
He also voiced concerns about robocalls – phone calls that deliver pre-recorded messages. “This is the number one source of complaints to the FCC, and I’ve made cracking down on robocalls my number one consumer protection priority.”
He asked for help from the mobile industry to “engage deeply in our effort to create a call authentication system to give consumers relief from robocalls and the FCC an enormous boost in addressing this top priority.”