Chairman Davis, Vice Chair Dumais, members of the Committee, my name is Gigi Sohn and I am a Distinguished Fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law and Policy and a Senior Fellow with the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society. I have been a public interest advocate for open, affordable and accessible communications networks for over 30 years. I was Counselor to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler from 2013-2016, and during that time, I helped the FCC adopt the 2015 Open Internet Order, which included the strongest ever network neutrality rules.
Current research suggests that low-income people can only afford to pay about $10 monthly for broadband. Anything more competes with other utility bills and the cost of food. Meeting the goal of universal connectivity and providing fixed broadband at about $10 per month requires a multi-pronged strategy - what my Benton colleague Jonathan Sallet calls an “Affordability Agenda.” It includes:
In the next decade, everyone in America should be able to use High-Performance Broadband.
Bridging the digital divide can help address our nation’s persistent health disparities. Rural Americans not only face limited access to health-care facilities, but “suffer from higher rates of obesity, mental health issues, diabetes, cancer, and opioid addiction.” But the tie that also binds is the lack of high-speed broadband connectivity in low-income communities, too. Rural America, as you know, is facing a physician shortage and low-income and rural populations are less likely to have choice when it comes to broadband providers.
Moving backwards: consolidation, deregulation & lack of accountability in the US media and broadband industries
The US broadband and media industries are increasingly becoming consolidated, deregulated and freed of accountability, with little attention either from policymakers or the media. While Mexico is moving forward -- having recently developed new institutions and regulations intended to promote competition and accountability in telecommunications and media, the US is moving backwards. Competition in broadband and media in the US is vanishing as a result of decisions, big and small, by the Trump Administration.
The city of Charlotte’s namesake, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, was Queen of Great Britain at the time of the US Revolution. Therefore, it seems appropriate to revisit the Queen’s City and celebrate the people and the organizations who are ensuring this digital revolution benefits everyone.
No matter who you voted for or what party you belong to, I think we can agree on one thing - access to high-speed broadband is one of the most important issues in the US today. In Congressional race after Congressional race, in Maine, Vermont, Virginia, Ohio, Tennessee, Colorado, Michigan, and New Mexico, just to name a few, voters said that broadband access was a top three issue, sometimes coming after health care and jobs, and other times, like in Vermont, coming in as the number one concern for voters.
In America we want institutions that make our democracy strong—that seems like a no brainer. So as one line of thinking goes, antitrust enforcers should step beyond consumer welfare and think about what would be good or bad for our democracy, or for values like the free speech the First Amendment protects. The suggestion is that perhaps enforcers should broaden the consumer welfare lens to think about effects on democracy or expression. I’d like to focus my remarks today on two responses to that suggestion.
[Speech] On of the two historic accomplishments of the current Federal Communications Commission is that it is the first FCC to interpret its statutory mandate to say it doesn’t have much legal authority or policy rights to regulate broadcasters, telephone companies, cable companies, or wireless companies. Instead, its principal regulatory mandate is to regulate another set of enterprises: local governments.
I rise today to talk about the truth, and its relationship to democracy. For without truth, and a principled fidelity to truth and to shared facts, our democracy will not last. 2017 was a year which saw the truth – objective, empirical, evidence-based truth -- more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government. It was a year which saw the White House enshrine “alternative facts” into the American lexicon, as justification for what used to be known simply as good old-fashioned falsehoods.