Technology

A model regulator, Ajit Pai deserves easy re-confirmation as FCC chair

What is the rarest thing in government? A federal regulator who prefers to empower consumers, rather than the federal bureaucracy, by encouraging and facilitating market competition. Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is that rare regulator who, for the good of the country, the Senate needs to confirm for a second term.

For the sin of promoting free market competition policies throughout the communications sector, Pai has been relentlessly attacked by left-wing groups. He won't agree to their demands that the FCC impose a political agenda by fiat, so they want him out.

If that is not reason enough for the Senate to reconfirm him, here are others.

"Consumers benefit most from competition, not preemptive regulation. Free markets have delivered more value to American consumers than highly regulated ones." That is Pai's governing philosophy, in his own words. If every federal regulator understood that basic economic truth, the U.S. economy would be larger, more innovative, and more dynamic.

A study last year by the Mercatus Center found that the U.S. economy would have been 25 percent larger in 2012 if regulations had been held to their 1980 level. That is $4 trillion in growth that we did not enjoy because of the heavy burdens imposed by federal regulations. An FCC chairman who understands why market competition is preferable to preemptive regulation is a keeper.

That philosophy does not make Pai a do-nothing regulator. Far from it. He is a passionate advocate of helping low-income and rural Americans by expanding broadband Internet access. He just has a different approach than the command-and-control one advocated by the political left.

"Almost 34 million Americans don't have access to the broadband networks needed to fully participate in the digital economy," Pai said in a speech last October. "It's no surprise that access tracks income: Americans living in the poorest counties are twice as likely to lack access as those living in the most well-to-do.

"This isn't how it should be. Every American who wants high-speed Internet access should be able to get it. Every consumer should have affordable choices in a competitive marketplace. Everyone should have online opportunity."

Does that sound like a heartless person to you?

Chairman Pai has proposed creating "Gigabit Opportunity Zones" modeled on Jack Kemp's urban enterprise zones. The federal government would provide financial incentives for Internet Service Providers to offer gigabit broadband in low-income areas and tax credits for startups to locate in those areas and provide jobs and opportunity.

This is hardly some crazy right-wing idea. The New York Times in 2014 advocated reviving Kemp's enterprise zone idea.

Chairman Pai also advocates upgrading America's broadband network to a state-of-the-art 5G network that would revolutionize telecommunications. An upgrade to 5G would enable people and businesses to instantaneously transfer massive amounts of data. 4G broadband offers speeds of up to 100 megabytes per second. 5G broadband would have speeds up to 10,000 mbps. The economic potential is tremendous.

A national 5G network would enable the United States to fully experience the Internet of Things. With a 5G network of interconnected devices, cities could better manage services such as traffic management, outdoor lighting, and garbage collection, saving millions of taxpayer dollars and eliminating waste.

Greater economic progress will be made through innovation and competition in the marketplace. It won't come from an FCC that heavily regulates the communications sector, including the Internet, and demands federal pre-approval before new ideas can be tried.

Chairman Pai understands this, which, along with his depth of expertise, makes him an ideal FCC Chairman.

Advocates of returning to a 1930s regulatory environment for communications in the United States portray Chairman Pai as some sort of radical who doesn't understand the issues. But he is far from it. He is a Harvard University and University of Chicago educated attorney with deep expertise in communications and technology. He was first appointed to the FCC by President Obama and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

In office, Chairman Pai has shown himself to be an innovative, thoughtful and inclusive leader. The Senate should give him a speedy re-confirmation.

Steve Forbes is chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes Media.

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