According to a new statement released by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Chairman Ajit Pai is now proposing new provisions for small carriers and cooperatives in the rural areas in a bid to give more American's access to high-speed internet. The newly suggested order would collectively provide those businesses with up to $500 million for their development efforts. In order to prevent abuse, it would also include "strong new rules" intended to oversee the program. In addition to that, the proposed order would include new reforms to the FCC's Connect America Fund in order to improve its efficiency and effectiveness. Part of that would include reforms aimed at helping to enable more and better access to services on Tribal lands.
According to Pai, the ultimate goal is to close the "digital divide" which currently exists between rural areas and more suburban environments. As things currently stand, rural access is typically limited in both the number of options consumers have when choosing an internet service provider and in terms of access speeds. For example, many areas across the country still only have access to speeds that are well below the average - with recent reports suggesting that average is around 18.7Mbps - and a substantial portion doesn't have access to broadband services at all. Worse still, there are many communities that only realistically have access to a single carrier or provider. According to Pai, fixing that is the FCC's top priority and the program needs to be revamped in order to encourage those providers to build out and update their infrastructure.
Although the move to add $500 million in funding will undoubtedly be much less controversial than some other recent undertakings of the FCC, it isn't probable that it will pass by without scrutiny. Questions about the new order will likely center around where the funding will come from and what exactly is contained in the new rules and reforms. As of this writing, those aspects of the order have not been made available to the public and the order itself has not been released. So it is still impossible to determine what impact, if any, will result from the suggested changes. However, as technology and IoT in particular continue to advance, it is at least clear that some sort of action is needed to get more and better access to more people in the U.S.