Ajit Pai, the new commissioner of the FCC, spells out his goals for expanding the “digital age” to “all Americans” in his first major speech. He picks Pittsburgh as the venue, stressing how the steel city “is back,” with technology helping revive the former rust belt metropolis.

His message: Tech “can revitalize areas that have experienced economic distress.” It’s a story that is “particularly resonant story today.”

The speech is visionary – and well worth reading. Here are highlights:

“Bringing Benefits of the Digital Age to All Americans”

In a speech titled “Bringing Benefits of the Digital Age to All Americans” at the Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute, Pai declared: “Pittsburgh tells a powerful and timely story about American resilience and reinvention.”

“Many wrote off Pittsburgh,” he said, noting the city’s economic decline in the 1980s. “But the leaders of this community—some of whom are here today—thought otherwise. You bet on its people, its assets, its grit, its ingenuity.  That bet is paying off.

“Just take a look around. Google took over the abandoned Nabisco factory, where it now employs more than 400 engineers. In 2015, Uber opened its Advanced Technology Center. Last year, that facility’s self-driving cars began to hit the roads. In 2016, Facebook’s Oculus opened an office to focus on virtual reality research.  Carnegie Mellon’s Collaborative Innovation Center has opened up its research labs to the likes of Apple, Disney, and Intel.  And this afternoon, I plan to visit Amazon’s new Pittsburgh office, which is working on software-automated translation, among other things.”

There’s more going on, he added.

“Just last month, the artificial intelligence company Argo AI received a billion-dollar investment from Ford to develop a virtual driver system for the automaker’s autonomous vehicle, which is scheduled to be released in 2021.”

And venture capital investments have jumped to nearly $500 million in 2014-15 from $343 million the previous two years.

“Tech now accounts for more than 300,000 area jobs—nearly a quarter of the area’s workforce,” he added.

Pittsburgh is back

“In short: Pittsburgh is back. The population is now holding steady.  And it’s getting younger as recent college graduates are staying in or moving to Pittsburgh to work at good jobs.”

Unfortunately, technology itself presents challenges, he acknowledged.

“It’s a cliché to say that advances in technology have brought us to one of the great inflection points in human history. It’s also true,” Pai explained.

“Technology is disrupting almost every aspect of our lives—how we work; how we learn; how we interact with friends and loved ones; you name it. Not surprisingly, this massive disruption is a source of significant angst. But it’s not just the scale of change that has people feeling uneasy; it’s that the change is coming so fast and will only get faster.”

He cited the rapid rise of autonomous vehicles as an example.

“Think of, say, the roughly 3 million Americans who drive for a living. How do you think they feel every time they see a new story about driverless cars or long-haul trucks?”

However, Pai stressed that “Change may be today’s only constant. So trying to stop it isn’t realistic.”

He stressed lyrics from a Jimmy Dean song as providing an answer:

“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust the sails to always reach my destination.”

Therein, he said, is an answer communities must embrace if they are to thrive in a new economy.

“That’s what you’ve been doing right here in Pittsburgh. You’ve adjusted your sails, and the wind is now blowing Pittsburgh in the right direction.”

So how can the FCC help?

“We want our policies to help bring the benefits of the digital age to all Americans,” he said. .

“First, I believe in the power of Internet-based technologies to create jobs, grow our economy, and improve people’s lives in countless ways. That’s why, despite the challenges we face as a country, I’m optimistic about America’s future,” Pai added, noting the power of broadband to be a leveler and providing access to distance education.

“This concept of digital empowerment brings me to my second core principle: I believe that every American who wants to participate in our digital economy should be able to,” he continued. “Access to digital opportunity shouldn’t depend on who you are or where you’re from. Whether you live in Manhattan, New York or Manhattan, Montana (population: 1,520), we want you to be digitally empowered.”

He then stressed a commitment “to focus more time and attention than the FCC traditionally has on places where people feel left behind—places that Washington too often looks past.”

The third principle Pai explained is ensuring a “competitive free market is crucial to unleashing private-sector ingenuity. The public interest is best served when the private sector has the incentives and freedom to invest and create.”

Making spectrum available for 5g, the next wave in wireless technology, will be a priority, he explained.

To help the private sector, Pai also plans to cut down on red tape.

And: “If Congress moves forward with a major infrastructure package, broadband should be included.”

To support wider access, Pai called for “any direct funding for broadband infrastructure appropriated by Congress as part of a larger infrastructure package should be administered through the FCC’s Universal Service Fund (USF) and targeted to areas that lack high-speed Internet access.”

The gigabit economy

Pai also wants to create what he called Gigabit Opportunity Zones.

“The idea is to update Jack Kemp’s vision for enterprise zones for the digital age,” he explained. “Under my proposal, we would provide tax incentives for Internet service providers (ISPs) to deploy high-speed broadband services in low-income neighborhoods.  We would require local governments to make it easy for ISPs to deploy these networks.  And we would offer tax incentives for startups of all kinds to take advantage of these networks and create jobs in these areas.”

As for 5G, Pai stressed that “the United States must continue to lead the world in wireless innovation. We led the way in the deployment of 4G LTE, and we must do the same in 5G.  With 5G, we can use millimeter wave spectrum to produce multi-gigabit speeds.  5G could transform the wireless world and provide even more robust competition to wired networks.”

The FCC has already “authorized operators to launch 5G trials at cell sites across America. They’ll be starting those trials by the middle of this year.  And we’re currently considering whether to open up even more spectrum in the millimeter wave bands for 5G and other uses.  It’s my intent to move forward quickly to do just that.”:

You can read the full text of his speech at: