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FCC Chairman Pai in ND to hear about broadband availability and needs

Dave Thompson
Prairie Public

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission said the Commission is working to expand broadband Internet capability in rural America.

Ajit Pai attended a roundtable discussion in Bismarck on that subject. He said the FCC is working to target parts of the country that do not yet have broadband.

"In rural America, there are some gaps," Pai said in an interview with reporters. "We call that the 'Digital Gap.' I want to make sure every American, especially those in rural areas, has access to digital platforms."

In North Dakota, more than 96 percent of the geographical area is served by locally owned companies, according to Broadband Association of North Dakota Executive Vice-President David Crothers. The group is made up of cooperatives and small commercial telecom companies.

"What that means for investment, and for North Dakotans able to access the latest, fastest and greatest services is almost incalculable," Crothers said.

But Crothers said there are still some areas of North Dakota without available broadband – places along the Red River Valley and in central North Dakota.

"Where we are not the incumbent provider, we are more than willing to go in and bring those same services to those customers that we have in our own territories," Crothers said. "We need that recognition by Washington, DC that they deserve that same service."

Pai said the demand for higher-speed Internet service is growing by leaps and bounds.

"It's very much like Kevin Costner's character in the movie 'Field of Dreams,' Pai said. "'If you build it, they will come.' If you build it, more and better services will come to take advantage of it."

Pai says the $10 billion Universal Service Fund is being targeted towards unserved areas. And he said there are changes forthcoming to make it easier for private companies to build the Internet infrastructure.

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