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After Buffalo, Media and Tech Can’t Look Away Any Longer

This tragedy should be a catalyst to a fundamental reckoning.
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In all the high-stakes political maneuvering and sharp rhetoric surrounding Congress right now, we shouldn’t lose track of this: The infrastructure bill the House passed last week is going to help millions of people.

$65 billion for broadband

Here at Free Press and Free Press Action, our focus has been on the billions in new funding devoted to broadband — an unprecedented investment. Never before has so much money been dedicated to closing the digital divide. Never before has so much support focused on making broadband more affordable. This is a big win.

Getting all this money is a huge first step that will make a crucial difference in the lives of people all over the country. The legislation will provide households living near the poverty line or enrolled in other federal-aid programs with up to $30 per month for the internet package of their choosing from participating providers. That maximum allowance will increase to $75 per month for people living on Tribal lands and potentially in other remote and rural areas.

The great news is that President Biden has nominated an incredible set of leaders to carry out this work. Jessica Rosenworcel, whom he named permanent chair of the FCC, is one of the smartest people to ever work there. As a commissioner, she played an instrumental role in crafting strong Net Neutrality rules back in 2015 and has made closing the digital divide her top priority.

The president nominated Gigi Sohn — one of our closest allies in the field for the past two decades — to serve as the agency’s fifth commissioner. Sohn founded the nonprofit Public Knowledge before going to work at the Obama FCC. She knows how to build coalitions and get things done at the agency. And when it really matters, she’s a fighter in the best sense of the word.

Our urgent priority is to get the Senate to approve these stellar nominees ASAP. We’ve lost almost a year — and to be fair, there was a lot going on — to a deadlocked agency where almost anything truly worth doing requires a 3–2 vote. We need public hearings and votes on both nominees to happen in the next few weeks for the FCC to get anything done in 2022.

We need a full FCC to get to work right away on:

  1. Ensuring that the $65 billion for broadband from the infrastructure bill actually reaches those who need it most.
     
  2. Restoring the FCC's authority under Title II of the Communications Act and reinstating real Net Neutrality.
     
  3. Persuading the FCC to conduct a race-equity audit and reckon with its own history of policymaking. (See the letters from two-dozen representatives and 100 groups supporting this effort by Free Press’ Media 2070 project.)
     
  4. Repairing the significant damage done during the Trump years. This includes the gutting of media-ownership limits and failing to deal with the broadcasting of hoaxes and public-health disinformation.

None of this vital work can happen until the Senate confirms Biden’s nominees. Urge the Senate to confirm Rosenworcel and Sohn without delay.

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