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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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WASHINGTON — On Monday, President Joe Biden will sign the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (or “IIJA”), a $1.2-trillion deal that includes $65 billion for broadband deployment and affordability.

Federal affordability funding will go to a new $14.2-billion Affordable Connectivity Program administered by the Federal Communications Commission. The program 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. This new program will build on the FCC’s successful Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which launched in May.

The bill also sets aside billions for digital-inclusion efforts, Tribal connectivity and other network investments, with the bulk of that deployment funding to be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration in the Department of Commerce. And the IIJA calls on the FCC and other federal agencies to increase broadband-pricing transparency and prevent discrimination in deployment based on the race, ethnicity or income of residents in an internet service provider’s territory.

The legislation passed the House earlier this month and passed the Senate in August, with bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, and is the culmination of years of organizing and advocacy by internet-affordability and media-justice organizations including Free Press Action.

Free Press Action Vice President of Policy and General Counsel Matt Wood said:

“With today’s signing, President Biden is taking a first step toward fulfilling his administration’s promises to make broadband more open and affordable. Meaningful support will now be available to tens of millions of people in the United States who have been unable to afford high-speed internet access. The new law also provides funding for broadband deployment, digital inclusion and other investments in internet access and equity, which will help close digital divides and bring connections closer to home for countless more.

“We celebrate the years of work in Congress and across the country that it took to get today’s investment in broadband adoption, and appreciate the legislation’s focus on bridging the affordability gap that disproportionately keeps communities of color offline. But we recognize that a new law like this one is just a down payment. Now that crucial dollars can start to flow, we need expertly staffed and fully functioning federal agencies in place to direct them.

“That’s why the ball is now back in the Senate’s court. When the White House finally named its choices for the FCC and NTIA, it couldn’t have made better picks than Jessica Rosenworcel, Gigi Sohn and Alan Davidson. Chairwoman Rosenworcel gets her confirmation hearing this Wednesday in the Senate Commerce Committee. We’re confident that she will be confirmed swiftly. The Committee and the full Senate must quickly confirm these other excellent nominees as well, to fulfill both agencies’ vital missions and their new mandates under the IIJA.

“Free Press Action is grateful to the Biden administration for its leadership on broadband-infrastructure issues and its focus on affordability, but we wouldn’t be here without the congressional leaders and their staffs who paved the way for the IIJA over the past several sessions of Congress, and who worked throughout the year to garner bipartisan support for the bill’s passage.

“Speaker Pelosi, Majority Whip Clyburn and Energy and Commerce Committee and Subcommittee Chairmen Pallone and Doyle deserve a ton of credit on the House side, along with Representatives Veasey, Clarke, McNerney, Eshoo, Matsui, Cárdenas and others who made affordability spending a priority. We also recognize Leader Schumer, Chairwoman Cantwell and Ranking Member Wicker, and those who were key to negotiating the broadband portions of the IIJA this summer like Senators Warner, King, Rosen, Tester and Portman, along with Senators Blumenthal, Luján, Klobuchar, Markey, Schatz and Wyden, who originally sponsored key parts of the final bill.”

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