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Carol Mattey quoted in Politico Pro:
Pai's broadband infrastructure push could elevate FCC in administration orbit

By John Hendel


FCC Chairman Ajit Pai began his leadership in 2017 with one clear message to the Trump administration and Congress: Show me the money. He wants his agency to assume a new role administering what could be billions of dollars in broadband infrastructure grants, when and if Congress and President Donald Trump put together an infrastructure package.

Pai and Republican FCC Commissioner Mike O'Rielly say the White House should look to their universal service fund — totaling more than $9 billion in annual disbursements used to subsidize telecom companies and for low-income consumers, schools and libraries — to distribute what would likely be a one-time infusion of cash intended to close the digital divide. That push comes despite their past criticisms of the fund's waste, fraud and abuse and a need for better controls.

The FCC's money grab would elevate the commission's profile at a time of great change for the agency under Pai, upping his visibility and helping cement a priority agenda item for his chairmanship — and one, unlike his intended rollback of net neutrality rules or potential sign-off of media industry consolidation, that may merit bipartisan support. His advocacy is part of a new fight among agencies for stimulus dollars that currently seem far off but could have great stakes for how these agencies operate for years to come, shaping their oversight and influencing their reputations substantially.

Lawmakers and analysts see some wisdom in Pai's argument, despite widespread expectation that nothing on infrastructure moves until 2018. And his advocacy has caught on with many telecom companies the commission regulates, with several taking to Capitol Hill and panels to lobby for a commission role.

"USF is a good delivery vehicle for a lot of that stuff," Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said in an interview. "I'm certainly open to that."

Pai, caught up in a frenzied year, could stand to gain.

"It would be an enormous boost to Chairman Pai's legacy," said telecom consultant Carol Mattey, a former FCC official who helped overhaul the agency fund under the Obama administration and who advocates for bringing billions of infrastructure dollars to the FCC.

Read the full article at Politico Pro

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