The Biden Administration is poised to celebrate the nation's largest telecommunications monopolies today even as these companies do the bare minimum for digital equity while undermining his administration's broadband agenda.
Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Networks Program at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, had this to say today about the undue influence of Big Telecom and its effort to block the confirmation of GiGi Sohn as an FCC commissioner:
As we enter the third year of a pandemic that has supposedly redefined the crucial importance of broadband, the Federal Communications Commission has failed to update the definition of broadband it set in 2015. Few expect the FCC to publish accurate maps of where broadband is until 2023. It might help if President Biden seated his third commissioner.
The Biden Administration took a painfully long time to nominate the most obvious candidate for the position - Gigi Sohn - and has done precious little to have her confirmed in a reasonable time frame. Though it would be easy to blame Republican opposition, the truth is that it simply does not appear to be a priority for the Administration.
We join the effort to praise all companies that are helping move toward digital equity, but if simply discounting the cost of service from cable and telephone providers were sufficient, we might have less of a problem now, 11 years after Comcast launched Internet Essentials. To actually connect everyone, we will need an effective FCC as well as local engagement. However, some of the very companies being praised by the President today are spending millions in lobbying and ad-blitzes to prevent Gigi Sohn from being confirmed and to stop needed investments.
If they succeed in blocking Gigi, they will have confirmed something else: that they are the actual regulator of telecom services and the Biden Administration is not serious about the lofty goals it set in 2021.
We support the work of countless people within the executive branch who are making the rules to spend the various funds appropriated by Congress to expand broadband access. And, while the low-cost plans and the ACP being touted today will help millions of Americans, it cannot come at the cost of defanging the FCC.
Christopher isn't the only voice calling for Sohn's confirmation. In early April, seven industry groups sent a joint letter to the U.S. Senate majority and minority leaders to urge them to move forward to confirm Sohn as the fifth FCC Commissioner to break the current 2-2 deadlock.
The Communications Workers of America (CWA) has also thrown its support behind Sohn, having recently launched a campaign to support her confirmation. CWA’s Senior Director of Government Affairs and Policy Shane Larson noted that delaying Sohn's confirmation was hamstringing the FCC:
Gigi Sohn has long been a strong advocate on behalf of consumer broadband access, a supporter of workers in the telecommunications and technology industries, and a proponent for an open, free, and fair internet. The delay in her confirmation makes it harder for the FCC to serve the American people, which is how the corporations that the agency is meant to regulate like it. It’s past time for the Senate to confirm her so that the FCC can have a full complement of commissioners and get to work.
When he announced her nomination in October of 2021, even President Biden himself praised Sohn as someone who "has worked to defend and preserve the fundamental competition and innovation policies that have made broadband Internet access more ubiquitous, competitive, affordable, open, and protective of user privacy."