WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., a senior member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, participated in an oversight hearing of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Wicker asked FCC Chairman Ajit Pai for an update on his agency’s efforts to close the digital divide, restore internet freedom, and improve the commission’s disputed Mobility Fund Phase II (MF-II) wireless coverage map.
During the hearing, Wicker asked Pai to respond to criticisms of the commission’s work to prevent waste and abuse in the Lifeline program and to modernize the nation’s communications infrastructure. In both cases, Pai responded that federal dollars wasted or spent to restore outdated technology are better utilized serving those in need and expanding broadband access.
“Our goal is to close the digital divide to make sure folks in Mississippi, Montana, and everywhere else have the same infrastructure that people in the big cities can take advantage of,” Pai said.
Wicker went on to ask Pai to assess the accuracy of dire predictions of internet “throttling and blocking” from critics of the FCC’s “Restoring Internet Freedom Order,” which reversed a short-lived Obama-era rule that had imposed 1930s-era regulations on the internet. Pai responded, “We were told for many months that this decision would be quote ‘the end of the internet,’… It has been 67 days since the repeal. The internet is still working, it is open and free.”
Wicker also asked Pai to commit to working with him to improve the quality of the Commission’s Mobility Fund Phase II (MF-II) wireless coverage map, which will help determine how billions in support for mobile broadband expansion will be allocated.
Wicker said he was skeptical the map could be improved. Wicker explained, “I do think there is widespread concern across the political spectrum that we are going to end up with a map that does not fairly distribute this $4.5 billion to people who need coverage.”
At the hearing, Pai announced the adoption of the MF II Challenge Process Extension Order, which will give eligible entities 90 more days to challenge the wireless coverage map. Wicker led a bipartisan effort to extend the challenge process window.