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Outgoing FCC chairman hopes US remains ‘bullish’ on space innovation, 5G


FCC chairman Ajit Pai criticized his predecessors for being naïve over China and expressed hope that the US maintains an openness to space innovation during Tuesday’s Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) webinar.

Ajit Pai, who will depart FCC at the end of this month, thinks the US should remain ‘bullish’ on space innovation. The chairman used space exploration as an example where FCC’s roles in regulating and fostering innovation merge.

“Over the last four years, FCC was the first to authorize applications from satellites or the constellations that wanted to provide service in the United States,” Pajit said during a webinar.

He explained that allowing for ‘homegrown’ capabilities to develop the country helped avoid potential national security risks that come with relying on foreign operators.

However, he noted that FCC would have to deal with a rapid increase in the number of private satellites circling the planet. FCC, he claims, will have to ensure a safe environment or deal with possible problems caused by satellite collisions that would last for thousands of years.

“For the first time in 16 years, we kicked off a review last year of how we should update this orbital debris regulation,” said Pai. The chairman insisted that his successors will face pushing back on the issue, yet certainty on industry rules has national security implications.

For the first time in 16 years, we kicked off a review last year of how we should update this orbital debris regulation,

Ajit Pai.

‘Naïve approach’

The outgoing FCC chairman shared some harsh criticisms for the lack of resolve on China in the past. Recapping his tenure as head of the organization Pai reminded attendees that FCC was created to take part in national defense.

Pai claimed that the US allowed using federal subsidies to purchase equipment from companies with close ties to the Chinese Communist Party and military, namely Huawei and ZTE. As recent as January 2017 FCC issued a paper on cybersecurity where China was not mentioned at all.

He directed the sentiment towards FCC’s uncompromising position on China and organizations’ efforts to curb the growth of Huawei’s influence in 5G infrastructure development internationally. The critical point Pai made was that China’s actions are unpredictable, undemocratic, and may pose a threat to national security.

“This can’t be an area where we can take a risk and hope for the best. As the recent white paper explains, the 5G network will expand the number and scale of potential vulnerabilities,” Pai argued.

The chairman acknowledged that his time at the top of the FCC is nearing the end and wished the next administration success, noting that difficult challenges he faced are awaiting whoever will be replacing him.

‘We can and must no longer consider foreign threats to be sufficiently addressed with aspirational talk, bureaucratic indifference, or a naïve approach to the world that simply pretends these threats do not exist. I am optimistic that there will be no turning back,’ Pai said.

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