CDT joined a broad coalition of civil rights and civil liberties organizations in signing a letter asking the Biden administration and Congress to nominate and confirm a 5th Commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission – and to do so as quickly as possible so that the agency is fully staffed and equipped to move forward with high-priority items like the Emergency Broadband Benefits Program and other actions to close the digital divide.
CDT signed on because we want the Commission to be able to make progress now on these pressing issues.
Attn: White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris and Senators Schumer, McConnell, Cantwell, and Wicker:
We, the undersigned organizations, write to urge the speedy nomination and confirmation of a fifth commissioner to the Federal Communications Commission in the new administration. During the COVID-19 pandemic, FCC action is urgently needed to bridge the digital divide so that all people have affordable internet access enabling them to stay safe while working and learning remotely. We ask you to ensure that these critical efforts are not stalled in a deadlocked FCC by seating a fifth commissioner as soon as possible.
In light of the urgent need for affordable communications during the pandemic, the need for a fifth commissioner is particularly acute. Nearly 80 million people in the U.S. do not have adequate broadband at home. Poor families and people of color are disproportionately disconnected – only 48 percent of low-income households have a fixed broadband connection, and 13 million Black people, 18 million Latinx people and 13 million Indigenous people lack this kind of adequate home connectivity. Based on digital divide indicators like education, income, and English proficiency, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities are also disproportionately impacted. Other research indicates that 30 percent of low-income people of color reported missing an internet payment in the early months of the pandemic, and roughly half were worried about affording upcoming internet and phone bills. As infection rates rise, broadband remains for millions the only safe way to attend school, work remotely, communicate with loved ones, or visit a doctor.
Leaving the agency in charge of charting the course for affordable communications access and infrastructure impotent to pursue the bold action required at this time would be a serious failing. The Commission faces an urgent agenda including implementing the new emergency broadband benefit; remedying previous neglect of the Lifeline program supporting low-income access to communications; approving emergency waivers for E-rate funded infrastructure to be opened up for remote education; the 2018 Broadcast Ownership Quadrennial Review; a long-delayed proceeding addressing the predatory costs of communication for incarcerated people; reclassification of broadband internet as a Title II service; and a host of other strategic questions including actions in light of litigation, oversight and more.
We urge you to act quickly to fill the remaining commissioner’s seat at the FCC by the end of March. Vulnerable and disconnected families need immediate assistance to conquer the digital divide during this pandemic, and they cannot afford the delay of partisan gridlock.