FCC’s Pai: We will implement ‘Section 7’ to evaluate any new technology or service, including above 95 GHz

In his first major policy address as the agency’s chairman, the FCC’s Ajit Pai promised to implement “Section 7” of the Communications Act, a rule that he said the agency has largely ignored but that calls on the FCC to determine whether any new technology or service proposed in a petition or application “is in the public interest within one year after such petition or application is filed.” He said that a closer adherence to Section 7 would ensure that the agency could better foster innovation in the tech sector.

Pai specifically pointed to the debate over LTE-U technology as an example for the need for Section 7. “It took too long for us to take action,” he said. (The FCC recently removed prohibitions against the development of LTE-U devices, which promise to transmit LTE signals in unlicensed spectrum bands currently used by Wi-Fi.)

Pai added that implementing Section 7 rules could help free up more spectrum for innovative services.

“Here’s one example of how the Section 7 process could work,” Pai said today during his speech in Pittsburgh, which was livestreamed by Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute. “As part of our so-called ‘Spectrum Frontiers’ proceeding, we asked questions about allowing novel wireless uses and technologies in frequencies above 95 GHz. Those frequencies haven’t traditionally been used for mobile wireless technologies. But I believe that, instead of having regulators decide which frequencies are useful, we should put spectrum out there as a testbed and leave it to the innovators to figure out how to use it. Applications for experimentation above the 95 GHz band could qualify for Section 7 treatment. And this determination, in turn, could accelerate the deployment of cutting-edge wireless services and other innovations.”

Along those lines, Pai also said the FCC would continue to work to free up additional spectrum that could be used for wireless operators’ 5G services. He hinted that the agency could release additional millimeter-wave spectrum beyond the 11 GHz of spectrum that the FCC freed up above the 24 GHz band last year.

But Pai’s comments about the FCC’s Section 7 rules were just part of his broader comments on how he would guide the agency following his appointment as chairman of the FCC by President Trump earlier this year. In other comments, Pai discussed:

The digital divide. Pai said that Congress should include funding for broadband infrastructure in any wider infrastructure spending bill it might pass. He added that those funds for broadband infrastructure should be administered through the FCC’s Universal Service Fund (USF).

Tax credits for ISPs. Reiterating his work to bridge the digital divide, Pai said the FCC should “provide tax incentives for internet service providers (ISPs) to deploy high-speed broadband services in low-income neighborhoods,” a proposal he said falls under his previously announced Gigabit Opportunity Zones efforts.

Net neutrality. Pai said that he sees the FCC implementing the “light touch regulation” it engaged in during the rise of the internet, as administered by former President Bill Clinton. “I think that’s generally the approach that served us well in the few decades hence,” he said.

Discounts for small businesses in spectrum auctions. “We want to make sure that everybody has a fair opportunity to compete,” Pai said in response to a question on whether the FCC would continue to issue bidding credits to small businesses that want to bid against behemoth wireless carriers for spectrum during the agency’s spectrum auctions. However, Pai didn’t provide specifics on what his approach to those credits would be, saying only that he wants to make sure that the terms of spectrum licenses ensure that licensees build out networks quickly. He spoke out against license conditions that required only a 66% network buildout in 10 years, saying instead that number should be closer to 90% or 95%.

Privacy rules. “Our goal is to have a level playing field,” Pai said, explaining that his decision to shelve implementing privacy rules on ISPs and wireless carriers. “We don’t want the government singling out one particular sector of the industry for more onerous or more favorable treatment. We just want to apply one system to everybody. And to me at least that’s what the FTC did for many years,” he said, adding that “I think they were a pretty effective cop on the beat.” Pai’s comments largely align with those of Verizon and AT&T, which argued against the FCC’s proposed privacy rules, formulated under former Chairman Tom Wheeler. Verizon and AT&T contended that they should not face privacy rules different from those applied to internet companies like Google and Facebook.