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FCC Launches Advisory Committee to Help Close Nation’s Digital Divide

February 1, 2017
by Rajiv Leventhal
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FCC (Federal Communications Commission) Chairman Ajit Pai has announced the formation of a new federal advisory committee to explore ways to accelerate deployment of high-speed Internet access nationwide and to close the digital divide.

According to an announcement, the committee will focus on developing specific recommendations on how the FCC can encourage broadband deployment across America.  Issues the committee will tackle include further reforms to the FCC’s pole attachment rules; identifying unreasonable regulatory barriers to broadband deployment; ways to encourage local governments to adopt deployment-friendly policies; and other reforms within the scope of the commission’s authority.

In particular, one of the committee’s first tasks will be drafting a model code covering local franchising, zoning, permitting, and rights-of-way regulations. Many localities may not currently have or be able to develop policies conducive to deployment.  With a model code approved by the FCC, any city could build a better regulatory environment for deployment, and any provider would have a better case for installing infrastructure, according to the announcement.

“Access to broadband is increasingly critical for all Americans, no matter who they are or where they live,” said Chairman Pai.  “It’s becoming the 21st-century gateway to jobs, healthcare, education, information, and economic development everywhere, from the smallest town to the largest city.  That makes it imperative for us to remove regulatory barriers to the deployment of high-speed Internet access.”

Nominees for the newly formed Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee will be drawn from a diverse set of stakeholders to address specific regulatory barriers to broadband deployment in both urban and rural areas, Pai stated.

Not surprisingly, a data brief from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) last summer revealed that small, rural and critical access hospitals are lagging behind larger urban and suburban hospitals with regard to interoperable data exchange and use of electronic health information. Also last summer, the Connecting Rural Americans to Care Act of 2016 was introduced, calling for the establishment of an interagency task force on rural health IT to coordinate delivery of financial and technical assistance to rural providers and provide leadership and recommendations on best practices to increase internet access in rural areas.

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