CTIA's Attwell Baker: FCC's Ajit Pai is 'the right leader at the right time'

CTIA President Meredith Attwell Baker speaks during the keynote presentation at the opening day of Mobile World Congress Americas.

SAN FRANCISCO--As always, the opening keynote of the U.S. wireless industry’s biggest conference teemed with enthusiasm. But speakers at Mobile World Congress Americas said public policies affecting the industry must be changed for the market to reach its potential.

“If 4G changed our lives, 5G will change society,” said Mats Granryd, director general of the GSMA, who opened the keynote. “The mobile industry is committed to one thing: to connecting everyone and everything to a better future.”

That’s why U.S operators are expected to spend $136 billion in capex over the next four years, Granryd continued. And regulators and policymakers at every level can best enable that to happen by addressing current policies, he said.

“Across the region, the mobile industry’s ongoing economic growth relies on a new regulatory framework,” he said.

Indeed, industry executives have increasingly called for policy changes in recent years. The FCC must step in to ease small-cell deployments, critics say, more spectrum must be freed up for wireless use and regulators should enable more activity on the M&A front.

And it’s clear the industry believes it has found a champion in FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “In short, he is the right leader at the right time,” CTIA President Meredith Attwell Baker said in introducing Pai.

Pai, who rose to the post following the election win of President Donald Trump, is widely viewed as more business-friendly than his predecessor, Tom Wheeler. During his leg of the keynote, Pai surely reinforced that view.

“5G could be what we’ve been waiting for,” Pai said. “Our challenge is to seize that opportunity.”

Pai cited the FCC’s recent report on competition in the wireless industry, noting that service fees have become less expensive—when priced by the gigabyte, at least—and speeds are getting faster.

“But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t challenges,” he added, noting the so-called digital divide between users who have access to wireless access networks and those in underserved areas who have few—or no—options.

The way to bridge that divide is to spur investment from service providers, Pai said. And the way to do that is to ease regulations.

“Too often, unnecessary rules make it expensive to construct these networks,” he opined. “More expensive than it oftentimes needs to be.”