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Opening Remarks of Commissioner Pai at Rural Broadband Roundtable

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Released: September 6, 2012

Federal Communications Commission

News Media Information 202 / 418-0500

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This is an unofficial announcement of Commission action. Release of the full text of a Commission order constitutes official action.
See MCI v. FCC. 515 F 2d 385 (D.C. Circ 1974).



September 6, 2012
Matthew Berry, 202-418-2005





Thanks to all of you for taking the time to attend this morning’s roundtable discussion on
rural broadband. Thank you as well to the folks at CenturyLink for organizing this event and for
all the work they are doing to deploy broadband here in Oswego and other small towns across
the country.
As you may know, I am one of the five Commissioners at the Federal Communications
Commission, so I spend a lot of time these days thinking about broadband deployment. And, as
you may know, I grew up about twenty miles from here in Parsons.
It is great to be back in Southeast Kansas. I care deeply about rural America, and I
believe that being raised in a small town like Parsons gives me a unique set of experiences that
informs my worldview. I understand firsthand that the communications landscape is very
different in rural areas than it is in cities. For instance, while I was growing up, my family did
not have cable television. Instead, we eventually had a satellite dish installed in our back yard.
The dish was approximately 10 feet wide and 10 feet tall. With the dish, we could watch non-
broadcast programming if we typed the channel coordinates into a set-top box and waited a
minute or two for the satellite to reposition itself. Needless to say, this experience isn't shared by
many of my friends who were raised in big cities, as compared to those of us who lived on Rural
Route 4 in Parsons.
When rural issues cross my desk at the Commission, they aren’t just abstractions to me. I
know that the decisions that we make at the FCC have a real impact—on my parents, on my
friends, and on my former neighbors. And I also know that back in Washington, DC, we often
focus too much on the political controversy of the day rather than the longer-term issues that
affect the heartland.
One thing that concerns me, for example, is the depopulation of rural America. People in
Washington don't talk about it much, but it is a serious issue. Take Kansas. In the last decade,
the population dropped in 77 of our 105 counties. Here in Labette County, our population has
declined in every census since 1920. Our population has fallen 38% from its peak. A similar
story could be repeated in almost every county, every city, and every town in rural America.

Why is this? There seem to be several reasons. Young people leave in search of better
economic opportunities. Parents depart in order to provide their children with more educational
options. Senior citizens abandon communities where they have lived all of their lives in order to
obtain easier access to the medical care they need.
To put it very simply, this is a tragedy. We cannot ignore the challenges facing rural
areas; they are as much a part of the national fabric as our biggest cities. I know how great it is
to grow up in rural America, and I want future generations to be able to have that same
That’s why the topic of today’s roundtable is so important. If we want to revitalize rural
America, encouraging rural broadband deployment needs to be a top priority. Broadband access
to the Internet can address many of the reasons that people leave for metropolitan areas. A
broadband connection can enable a small businesswoman in Oswego to market her products to a
nationwide audience, not just to people in Labette County. High-speed Internet access can make
available more educational options for rural students and those seeking job training. And strong
broadband infrastructure can supply better access to medical care, via telemedicine, to citizens of
all ages. In short, broadband can bring to the country many of the opportunities often taken for
granted in the city.
I have only been at the Commission a short time, but I have already learned that there is
no substitute for hearing directly from those across the country who are affected by what we do.
So I look forward to learning about the challenges that Oswego and Southeast Kansas generally
face when it comes to broadband deployment and to hearing your ideas for what can be done to
address them. Before we get started, however, I wanted to share two brief thoughts with you.
First, we need a regulatory environment that encourages the private sector to invest in
and upgrade rural broadband networks. When regulators make it difficult for broadband service
providers like CenturyLink to deploy broadband, rural America loses. The economics are as
simple as they are unfortunate. Broadband networks in more densely populated areas are the
most profitable; networks in more sparsely populated areas are the least. So if the regulatory
environment is unfavorable, broadband service providers are likely to jettison their rural
investments first. This is one of the reasons why it is so important that we work at all levels of
government to remove regulatory barriers to infrastructure investment and to stop new ones from
being created.
Second, as we go about implementing reform of the Universal Service Fund, there will
continue to be a debate about its size. Some will want it to be bigger; others will call for it to be
reduced. But we should all agree on at least one thing: Whatever amount we choose to spend,
we should strive to get the most bang for our buck.
This means that future funding needs to be stable and predictable so that companies can
make long-term investments. Our rules of the road can’t change every year or two, and
Washington’s funding formulas for carriers shouldn’t redistribute money annually in an arbitrary
or haphazard manner. We also need a transparent system for distributing funds, one that
companies can understand to plan their investments and that government watchdogs can follow
to guard against waste, fraud, and abuse. And simplicity is essential if the system is going to
work; we cannot create a regulatory framework so complicated that the only people who
understand it work at the FCC.

In short, my goal is for rural America to reap all of the benefits of a 21st century
communications infrastructure—one that connects the city with the country, and the suburbs
with small towns. All Americans, no matter where they live, should be able to share in the
bounty of the communications marketplace. Working with all of you, I’m hopeful that we can
make that happen.
Thank you again for participating in today’s roundtable, and let’s get the discussion

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