Federal Communications Commission Chairman speaks on broadband access during W.Va. visit

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission was in West Virginia on Friday -- his first visit to the state in several years.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai was in Charleston, meeting with members of the West Virginia Broadcasters Association, discussing various topics including the importance of broadband coverage in the state.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was in Charleston, meeting with members of the West Virginia Broadcasters Association, discussing various topics including the importance of broadband coverage in the state. WSAZ was part of the event.

"We are in here in West Virginia to talk about the importance of communications technology to folks across the state, whether it's broadcast TV and radio or broadband infrastructure," said Chairman Pai. "We want to make sure that everyone here in the state has access to what I call 'digital opportunity.' "

The Federal Communications Commission is responsible for regulating television, radio and phone industries.

Both U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) were at the meeting to talk about the need for reliable broadband access in West Virginia.

"There is a digital divide really between rural and urban America," Capito said. "In West Virginia, we have really been particularly challenged. We have geographic challenges. So I created a program called 'Capito Connect.' We work with the FCC and Chairman Pai to say 'How do we get those federal dollars to those last unserved and under-served areas?' There's money that is collected at the federal level that we have seen deployed all over the state to try to improve that, to try to bump speeds and availability and to make it accessible at a price point that people can afford. It's about economic development, education, health care -- all these really vital areas of the economy and ease of living that broadband provides for us."

"Broadband is a connectivity for us to be connected to the world," Manchin said. "For us to prosper and compete , we have to have connectivity. You have got to have high-speed broadband, you have to have cell service, and in rural America, most of rural America is not covered."

Manchin also touched on the importance of conducting speed tests in order to create accurate coverage maps that determine how much federal broadband funding West Virginia gets.

"They are about to distribute $20 billion on rural broadband connectivity," said Manchin, referring to the FCC. "I am the only person out of 535 people in Congress that has basically challenged the FCC directly. I am in the courts challenging them. Their maps are wrong. We let $4 billion go already and I'll stop the $20 billion until we are treated fair."

Chairman Pai says he grew up in a rural town in Kansas and understands what it's like to be on the wrong side of the digital divide.

"Closing that digital divide is the FCC's top priority," he said. "That's personal for me. In the 21st century, it's increasingly important for many families to have access to that technology. We want to make sure everybody has access, but that's a big challenge, especially in parts of West Virginia where the terrain might be challenging or you might have smaller towns where the return on the investment might not be there. The FCC is pulling out the stops by modernizing our regulations, increasing the efficiency of our funding streams through our Universal Service Fund Program to target unserved parts of West Virginia and other states like it to make sure no one is left behind in the 21st century."

The chairman also touched on the changes being seen in local media, and says he feels local media will still play an important role in years to come.

"I think the marketplace for media is more challenging than ever," Pai said. "The broadcasters know that better than anybody else, but I continue to believe broadcasting's strong competitive advantage is the fact that it is local. Despite the fact that there are more challenges than ever from internet delivered technologies and the like, I continue to believe that broadcast TV and radio will be an important part of the media landscape, and it's important to continue to innovate on some of these digital platforms."