In one of his first acts as FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai announced he was moving forward with his Digital Empowerment Agenda accompanied by the announcement this past Tuesday that the FCC is forming a new federal advisory committee, to be called the New Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (“NBDAC”). Then-Commissioner Pai had proposed the creation of such a committee, and the creation of “gigabit opportunity zones” last September to expand broadband access to remote and low income areas. The mission of the NBDAC is to provide the FCC with recommendations on how it can best promote broadband deployment. The FCC’s efforts dovetail with the government wide, cabinet level effort under the Broadband Opportunity Council, which has been working to advance broadband deployment and adoption by better coordinating the broadband initiatives of various federal government departments and agencies, including the National Telecommunications & Information Administration and the Department of Agriculture.
Some of the topics that the NBDAC will include: further reforms to the FCC’s pole attachment rules, including a possible reexamination of the rates and charges imposed by pole owners ; identifying regulatory barriers to deployment, including at the local level; and other reforms of FCC policies tied to Sections 253 and 332(c)(7) of the Communications Act, and Section 6409 of the Spectrum Act to encourage deployment of broadband facilities. One item it specifically identifies as a committee priority is drafting a model regulatory code for local governments seeking to foster a favorable regulatory ecosystem for providers considering whether to build broadband infrastructure in the community. The announcement envisions that this model code would encompass topics such as local franchising requirements, zoning rules, permits and right-of-way regulations. Many of the FCC’s universal service programs focus on broadband deployment in rural areas, so it is likely that there will be a particular focus on rural deployment, and the efficacy and challenges of the existing programs, although the scope of the committee’s mandate extends to urban areas as well. Fellow Republican Michael O’Rielly for one, has expressed concern about the past broadband deployment policies and their implementation.
The FCC is seeking qualified individuals from ISPs, cable operators, trade associations, governmental agencies (local, state and federal), consumer and community organizations and other stakeholders willing to commit to a two-year term and attend three in person meetings per year. Participants must also be willing to serve on a subcommittee, and the time involved, the notice warns, may be substantial. Lobbyists are not eligible to participate. Additional details are provided in the Public Notice that accompanied the announcement, including how to submit nominations, which are due February 15, 2017.