27 February 2018
| Alan Burkitt-Gray
US regulator Ajit Pai had to defend his stance on net neutrality after his speech at Mobile World Congress last night – but revealed details of new spectrum auctions.
After many in the audience of
industry leaders raised their hands to show their opposition to
his decision to repeal Obama-era rules he retorted: "I would
hope that public opinion over time was based more on facts and
less on public relations."
It was a rare public appearance by Pai, who cancelled a speech
he was due to give at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las
Vegas at the beginning of the year –but did appear a
few days ago at the right-wing Conservative Political Action
Conference, where the National Rifle Association presented him
with an honour.
In his speech to the conference, the chairman of the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) said he planned to run an
auction for spectrum in the 28GHz band in November 2018, to be
"followed immediately thereafter by an auction of spectrum in
the 24GHz band".
But he offered one caveat: "In order for us to start an auction
in November, we need the US Congress to pass legislation by May
13 addressing the handling of upfront payments. Until now, this
technical issue hasn’t impeded the
FCC’s work because we’ve been busy
getting spectrum we’ve already allocated ready to
He said: "But we’re now ready to move forward with
a major spectrum auction, and if we don’t get the
problem fixed by May 13, our efforts to realise
America’s 5G future will be delayed.
I’m pleased that Congress is making bipartisan
progress on this issue and am hopeful that we’ll
be able to kick off a major spectrum auction in
He also said that the FCC would seek to liberalise rules that
would allow operators to deploy 5G. "So we’ve
launched a comprehensive review of our infrastructure
regulations," he said at the Barcelona conference.
"We want to remove outdated rules and make it easier to deploy
wireless infrastructure. This review is ongoing, but
we’ve already eliminated some rules that
don’t make any sense."
He gave one example of the FCC’s thinking: "We
used to require an extensive historic preservation review
process just to replace an old utility pole with a newer one
that’s substantially identical. Not anymore," said
There is more to come, he added, without giving details
– except that he has asked another member of the FCC,
Brendan Carr, "to lead on modernising our wireless
He told the conference: "Nobody gets a free pass. The United
States is simply making a shift from pre-emptive regulation
which foolishly presumes that every last wireless company is an
anti-competitive monopolist to targeted enforcement based on
actual market failure or anti-competitive conduct."