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A child attends an online class at a learning hub inside the Crenshaw Family YMCA during the Covid-19 pandemic on February 17, 2021 in Los Angeles. (Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

A child attends an online class at a learning hub inside the Crenshaw Family YMCA during the Covid-19 pandemic on February 17, 2021 in Los Angeles. (Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

50+ Groups Urge Biden to Swiftly Fill Open Seat on FCC to Remedy Digital Divide, Restore Net Neutrality

"If we are to reach the goal of having a country where everyone, no matter their address or size of their bank account, has affordable access to high-speed internet, we need a full commission as soon as possible."

Kenny Stancil

A coalition of more than 50 progressive advocacy organizations on Monday sent a letter urging the White House to immediately nominate a candidate who is committed to securing broadband internet for all—and reinstating net neutrality—to fill the Federal Communications Commission's fifth and final seat, which remains open.

"The pandemic showed us the unshakable image of children doing their classwork from fast-food parking lots using borrowed WiFi. We cannot let those students or any family wait any longer."
—Coalition letter

While the groups praised President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris for the administration's "deep understanding that broadband access is critical to education, work, health, and wellbeing" as well as "the work it has undertaken... to ensure everyone has affordable access to high-speed internet," their letter (pdf) emphasizes that more needs to be done—and quickly.

Although unequal internet access "can literally be a matter of life and death," the groups noted, the Biden administration has yet to break the FCC's current 2-2 split of Republican and Democratic commissioners—a necessary step on the path to a "fully functional" agency capable of remedying the digital divide and restoring net neutrality rules repealed in 2017 during the Trump administration.

"As we move toward the second half of 2021 with no nomination for the fifth and final commissioner, the FCC remains below full capacity, which is incompatible with the goal of delivering open, affordable, and reliable high-speed broadband to every home," the coalition wrote.

Filling the FCC's open seat "is all the more urgent," the letter continues, "given the fact poor families and people of color are disproportionately disconnected from high-speed internet access, compounding grave inequalities that were made worse during the pandemic."

"Given the legislative calendar and the diminishing number of days for hearings and confirmation votes, we have reached a critical point to guarantee the agency charged with ensuring affordable communications access can do its work during your administration," added the coalition, comprised of dozens of groups including the Communications Workers of America, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Fight for the Future.

The coalition warned that "failing to nominate a fifth commissioner leaves the FCC less than fully operational and limits its capacity to most effectively:

  • Remedy previous neglect of the Lifeline program that supports low-income access to communications;
  • Create rules to make our nation's networks more reliable and resilient;
  • Help guide the deployment of new broadband infrastructure built with federal dollars to make it as effective as possible;
  • Approve emergency waivers for E-rate funded infrastructure to be opened up for remote education;
  • Meet the challenge of the 2018 Broadcast Ownership Quadrennial Review and halt the dangerous trend towards consolidated ownership in broadcasting by reasserting principles of localism, competition, and ownership diversity; and
  • Reclassify broadband internet access as a Title II service to ensure fair and equitable access for everyone and to reinstate strong net neutrality protections."

"If we are to reach the goal of having a country where everyone, no matter their address or size of their bank account, has affordable access to high-speed internet, we need a full commission as soon as possible," the groups wrote.

According to the coalition, "The FCC, as an expert agency with a mandate from Congress, has the singular ability to act as an empowered advocate to ensure affordable and reliable communications for all."

"The pandemic showed us the unshakable image of children doing their classwork from fast-food parking lots using borrowed WiFi," the groups said. "We cannot let those students or any family wait any longer."

"We urge the administration to not lose any more time and to nominate a fifth commissioner who is dedicated to bringing open, affordable, and reliable internet access to all and fulfilling all of these vital goals," they added.


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