Ajit Pai came through Wilmington Friday as part of his inspection for "bridging the digital divide" as part of his Digital Opportunity Tour.
"He's been touring around the country, looking at communities that have access and communities that don't have access and seeing the power of broadband and what it means," said Tina Pelkey, Press Secretary for the FCC Chairman.
Pai said connecting America to the internet is a major part of his initiative, and he's actively looking for what areas need the most help.
"I come from a very rural part of Kansas where there isn't a lot of connectivity. Some of the people who move there do move there just to get away from it all, as it were. Our goal is to get you wifi whether you want it or not," Pai joked. "No, I'm just kidding, our [goal] is to make sure every American who wants internet access is able to get it. So if you don't want it, great, but, at least when I travel around, I've met many, many people who are desperate for it. We want to make sure that kind of connectivity that we often take for granted in some of the bigger cities extends to those off-the-beaten-path places."
Pai visited NextFab, a collaborative makerspace with locations in Wilmington and Philadelphia where members can used advanced creation equipment to further small business ideas, create concepts and products, and find like-minded community members alongside whom they can hammer out details and problems. The FCC chairman covered a number of topics while speaking to a gathering of roughly two dozen makers and officials, including New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer.
"We got work from a client of ours that the FCC chairman was doing a listening tour of all 50 states and was looking for a location in Delaware to visit," said Evan Malone, president and founder of NetFab, who said he enjoyed what Pai had to share with visitors to the space. "I think the net neutrality issue is obviously very complicated, and it's difficult, in a short answer such as he gave, to address all the questions beneath the surface...I'm satisfied with what he stated his intent was. As to whether it's effective or not, I think I would have to defer to what he's saying he's seen in terms of reports."
Those reports included a one Pai had been touting which claimed a 25-percent increase in broadband access across the country, until it was revealed a misfiling of a smaller ISP's percentages for access to high-speed internet have been erroneous and they had not, in fact, provided nearly the 100-percent infrastructure across eight states it had stated.
"We're looking into that report, but more generally speaking we're very happy that our policies are having an impact on closing the digital divide," Pai said. Earlier while addressing the room, he'd explained: "I believe in a free and open internet and our goal is, of course, to ensure that digital economy continues to thrive. That market-based approach that we had from 1996 through the Clinton Administration until 2015, I think served the internet economy pretty well. We saw $1.5 trillion in network infrastructure. We saw companies like Facebook and Amazon and Netflix and Google go from small start-ups to global giants. we saw consumers reaping the benefits of all that innovation. So, from our perspective, at least, in 2017, we simply restored that basic framework and actually added to it with a regulatory protection of transparency."
Malone said Pai's message left him hopeful.
"My hope is that less regulation and more competition is the outcome, and transparency, I think, is wonderful," Malone said. "I do really appreciate that he stated that everybody agrees there should be no selectivity in terms of what's carried. No internet service provided should be picking and choosing who gets to communicate over their network, and that any policies they apply should be uniform."