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North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven, right, laughs with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai during a visit to Dakota Carrier Network in Bismarck Monday, Sept. 16, 2019. John Hageman / Forum News Service

FCC chairman talks rural broadband in Bismarck visit

BISMARCK — The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission said North Dakota is "ahead of the curve" in making broadband accessible to its residents during a visit with communications companies in Bismarck Monday, Sept. 16.

Ajit Pai, who was appointed to the commission in 2012 and designated chairman in 2017 by President Donald Trump, participated in a roundtable discussion led by Republican Sen. John Hoeven at Dakota Carrier Network's office. The meeting came less than a month after Pai's agency announced it authorized nearly $600 million to maintain, improve and expand broadband in North Dakota over the next decade.

Participants in Monday's discussion said North Dakota has only some pockets left unserved by broadband, but they said more can be done. Dakota Carrier Network CEO Seth Arndorfer estimated 5% of the state's population doesn't have broadband access.

"We rank very well on rural cell phone coverage and rural broadband," Lt. Brent Sanford said. "But ... it's never good enough."

Sanford said North Dakota will continue to need more data as it develops precision agriculture and unmanned aircraft technologies.

"For all these different applications, we've got to have that connectivity," Hoeven said.

Pai's itinerary included a visit to the Grand Farm autonomous research initiative south of Fargo later Monday. He said he planned to visit other states in the region to discuss how broadband acts as "engine of job creation and economic growth."

Pai said the FCC has been modernizing regulations to make it easier for private companies to build internet infrastructure.

"I want to make sure that every American, especially those in rural areas, has access to digital platforms," he said.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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