Biden Administration Signals Short-Term Win, Uncertain Future on Broadband Policy

What Americans really need is for the Biden administration to support its FCC nominee, Gigi Sohn, so the agency can ensure affordable broadband for all.

Today, President Biden and Vice President Harris will announce that the administration is accepting voluntary commitments from broadband providers to offer $30 a month internet service to qualifying low-income consumers as part of the existing Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program.

These voluntary commitments form a strange juxtaposition to the aggressive delay efforts orchestrated by the very same broadband providers, wireless carriers, and broadcasters the FCC regulates to stall the confirmation of Gigi Sohn, a strong consumer champion, to the agency. These delay tactics hamstring the agency’s work to provide oversight and enforceable consumer protections for affordable broadband for all Americans. Public Knowledge urges the Biden administration to support its nominee by securing Ms. Sohn’s Senate confirmation and clarifying its commitment to the long-term protection of consumers in the broadband market.

The following can be attributed to Chris Lewis, President and CEO at Public Knowledge:

“The administration states that broadband is now a necessity, not a luxury, but for the millions of Americans who do not qualify for the ACP, broadband will continue to be priced as a luxury. While we are pleased that the administration has worked to secure voluntary commitments from broadband providers to offer affordable service to low-income consumers, this is a short-term win when Americans need bolder action from their policymakers to ensure affordable broadband in the future. Almost a year and a half into this administration, we continue to have no oversight of competition and pricing in the broadband market by Congress or at the expert agency on communications networks, the FCC. 

“How can a broadband company afford to offer service for $30 at high speeds for some, but not for others? What is the impact of the lack of competition in broadband markets on these prices which seem arbitrary based on the subsidy provided by the government? These and many other questions could be answered with appropriate study, however, that is not possible as long as the FCC has no expressed authority to protect consumers over broadband. 

“It’s time for the Biden administration to live up to its commitments to competition in the broadband market. What we need is for the FCC – the regulatory agency designated by Congress to ensure robust, affordable broadband for all Americans – to gain its fifth commissioner: Gigi Sohn. This and other critical work of the FCC cannot get underway until the White House insists that the Senate take up a vote on her nomination. Of course, delay and obstruction is what the entities the FCC regulates want and are getting right now. It is simply unconscionable that after more than a year, this extremely well-qualified consumer advocate is being blocked by these companies. The White House needs to focus on the work at hand and get this done – yesterday.”

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