June 21. 2017 8:27PM

Another View -- Ajit Pai: Tech Week: How the U.S. can win the digital future


This week, the White House is hosting a series of meetings between leaders of our economy’s technology sector and administration officials. Dubbed “Tech Week,” these events provide a forum to focus on a critical question: What public sector policies will best spur private sector innovation?

Getting the answer right is vital for our nation’s economic future. Technological innovation opens the door to new industries and platforms, creating jobs and economic growth. The sharing economy, for example, has already given rise to more than a dozen billion-dollar companies, like Airbnb and Lyft. Technology firms currently account for America’s (and the world’s) five most valuable companies.

In order for us to expand prosperity and extend economic opportunity to more Americans, we must remain on the cutting edge. This means that government at all levels must focus on removing barriers to innovation and ensuring that technological advances aren’t strangled by bureaucratic red tape

That’s exactly what we’ve been doing at the Federal Communications Commission this year.

For starters, we’re taking aggressive action to speed the roll-out of next-generation wireless networks. Commonly known as 5G, these new networks promise speeds markedly faster than today’s mobile networks (think about getting gigabit speeds on your smartphone). 5G also promises new applications that will be critical to the development of the “Internet of Things” — that is, a future in which virtually any device can be or is connected to a network. With billions more connected devices, ranging from your car to your appliances, the Internet of Things will impact everything from supply chains to worker productivity. It has the potential to create trillions of dollars in economic value over the next decade.

But to get to the 5G future that will make the Internet of Things fully possible, we’ll need much more infrastructure than what today’s networks demand. 5G will require companies to deploy hundreds of thousands of small cells (operating at lower power), and many more miles of fiber to carry all of the traffic. That’s why the FCC is working on modernizing the rules for that kind of infrastructure. We shouldn’t apply burdensome rules designed for 100-foot towers to small cells the size of a pizza box. If America is to lead the world in 5G, we need to modernize our regulations so that infrastructure can be deployed promptly and at scale.

Another FCC priority has been making the agency more agile and responsive. Bureaucratic inertia can be poison to innovation. That’s why, if an innovator asks the FCC to approve a new technology or service, we’ll make a decision within one year (light-speed by government standards). Federal law already requires the FCC to meet that timeline, but that rule has largely been ignored since its adoption decades ago. Under this administration, those seeking to innovate will no longer need to wait indefinitely for an answer.

Speaking of new technologies, one area where we’re moving quickly is the introduction of the next-generation television standard. This new technical standard is the first one to marry the advantages of broadcasting and the Internet.

Imagine if television stations could offer 4K video, immersive audio, better accessibility features for Americans with disabilities, localized and advanced emergency alerts, and reception on mobile devices.

All of this could be made possible by next-generation television. Our goal is to approve this new standard by the end of the year so that television broadcasters can begin to use it on a voluntary, market-driven basis.

Thanks in part to the administration’s pro-growth policies, there is reason to be optimistic about the state of our economy. Unemployment is at a 16-year low. The stock market is hitting record highs. And, just last week, the Federal Reserve upgraded its forecast for economic growth for 2017.

But we can’t afford to rest on our laurels. To continue creating jobs and growing our economy, we must ensure that regulation and inertia don’t stand in the way of innovation. We’re doing our part at the FCC to make sure that government promotes, rather than inhibits, the technologies of the future.

Ajit Pai is chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.