How Not To Help Close the Digital Divide

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If you’re a person living in the United States without quality broadband, you should be very disappointed in the way your elected officials have failed to meet the following challenge of closing the digital divide recently: 

  1. Strike One (March 7): The 15-month failure to seat a full 5-member Federal Communications Commission. After three hearings and registering the support of 400 organizations across the political spectrum and 400,000 citizens, the Biden administration and US Senate gave the broadband industry exactly what it wanted – two years (or more) of a deadlocked FCC. This nomination process was a shameful display of the power of misinformation and homophobia at work in the nation.
  2.  Strike Two (March 8): The failure to renew the FCC’s authority to auction spectrum. For the past 30 years, the US has renewed the FCC’s authority to auction spectrum without fail – until now. Congress just allowed this authority to expire. Fortunately, there are no auctions underway and none on the immediate horizon, so this lapse will not cause permanent damage to the FCC’s ability to conduct auctions so long as it is short-lived. 
  3. Strike Three (March 9): The failure to provide additional funds to the Affordable Connectivity Fund (ACP). Despite lavishing praise on the ACP as a critical initiative to make broadband affordable for low-income families, the Biden administration’s budget proposal makes no request for additional funding. Instead, the budget relies on an optimistic timeline for existing funding to last. While estimates suggest that the program could run out of funds next year, the White House seems comfortable banking on smaller demand on these funds, leaving out the estimated 24 million eligible American households who have not yet signed up. 

To finish the baseball analogy, the US struck out, but the game isn’t over. The public will be watching to see if the Administration takes steps to achieve the broadband agenda it has touted. This starts with getting a well-qualified fifth commissioner confirmed to the FCC immediately, but also includes strong anti-discrimination rules called for by law and restoring the FCC’s Title II authority over broadband so the agency can protect more consumers over this essential network. 

[Chris Lewis is the President and CEO of Public Knowledge]

How Not To Help Close the Digital Divide