North Carolina residents will be among the first to have faster 5G broadband access thanks to legislation approved by lawmakers last year, making the state a leader in digital innovation, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday in Charlotte.
“I remember Charlotte and the surrounding communities in the '80s and '90s and to see how quickly things are moving, the energy in this town and in this county, it’s a testament to the leadership on all kinds of levels, public and private sector,” Ajit Pai said during his talk with the Charlotte Chamber and public policy officials.
Pai especially praised last year’s legislation to install 5G broadband in the state. 5G, unlike 4G, doesn’t rely on big cell towers and instead uses millions of smaller transmitters, similar to telephone poles.
The shift gives users more bandwidth and faster download speeds while also having a wider reach, allowing users in rural areas better access to the internet.
But critics of the North Carolina law opposed it because oversight of transmitters would be shifted from the cities to the state, giving municipalities less regulatory control over where the transmitters are located.
Pai also said that bridging the digital divide between those who have access to the internet and those who don’t helps upward mobility, referencing a 2014 study that ranked Charlotte last of 50 cities for economic mobility.
“Every American, regardless of (where) he or she lives ... regardless of your family background, all of us should have a chance to succeed, and closing the digital divide sets the table for doing that,” Pai said.
For Charlotte and North Carolina specifically, Pai said the state is already a leader in digital innovation, but it can still improve.
“Part of it is doing innovative public/private partnerships that allow people throughout the Charlotte metro area to have digital connections, whether it’s a fiber line that goes under the ground or on a utility pole, or the wireless infrastructure that’s necessary to carry some of the traffic,” he said. “Making sure every part of Charlotte is connected is something that is really important.”
Before coming to Charlotte, Pai visited Graham High School in Graham to celebrate North Carolina becoming the first state to connect every classroom to broadband.
Appointed by President Donald Trump in 2017 as chairman of the FCC, Pai has received criticism over the repealing of net neutrality, which had required internet service providers to give equal access to content regardless of the user, content or website.