In the United States, we need a better Internet. We need oversight on Big Tech, ISPs and other big business. We need federal agencies empowered to advance competition, protect privacy, and empower consumers to be fully staffed and working. New infrastructure legislation aimed at ending the digital divide gives new responsibilities to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and Congress relies on the Federal Trade Commission ( FTC) to rule over Big Tech and others. This means that we need staff for these agencies now more than ever.
The new infrastructure package gives the FCC and NTIA a lot of new work to do, including deciding how to allocate a large amount of funds to update our lagging Internet infrastructure. In the meantime, we rely on the FTC to police wrongdoing by tech companies of all levels. When the FCC under Ajit Pai repealed net neutrality protections, they and the ISPs asserted that the FTC could control any abuse, even though the FTC already has some big jobs, like protecting user privacy and promoting competition in the technology sector.
However, none of these agencies can do their job unless they are fully staffed. And that means the Senate must confirm President Biden’s nominees. The consequences of sitting still are significant. These bodies have been given unique responsibilities in a generation. Senate leadership should commit to staffing each of these agencies before they leave for vacation in December, so that work on behalf of the public can begin.
Congress must act on four critical appointments to these agencies by the end of the year, or the agenda for a better Internet will fall apart. Jessica Rosenworcel is expected to be confirmed for another term with the FCC, as chairwoman. Gigi Sohn is also expected to be nominated for a term at the FCC. At the FTC, the Senate should confirm Professor Alvaro Bedoya. And NTIA’s work should be bolstered by the confirmation of Biden’s nominee Alan Davidson.
New FCC chairman wants to fix internet access for kids, but can’t without full commission
Amid the pandemic, children — mostly those in low-income neighborhoods — have been forced into overpriced, shoddy internet packages to attend distance education from home. To solve this problem, schools were forced to give wireless ISPs millions of public dollars to rent mobile hotspots. It provided a “better than nothing” alternative for kids camping out in fast food parking lots to do their wifi homework. In many places in the United States, it was the product of intentionally discriminatory deployment choices that occurred because these companies were unregulated. While too many people in Washington DC were busy renting ISPs during the pandemic, the then-FCC commissioner Jessica R.osenworcel has made it clear that we need to do better. The FCC was given the power to fight “digital discrimination” under the new infrastructure law. The EFF and many others support an outright ban on digital redlining to prevent deployment practices that target 21st century access to high-income neighborhoods while forever excluding low-income areas.
However, Chairman Rosenworcel and Chairman Biden’s FCC nominee Gigi Sohn must be confirmed by the Senate by the end of the year to provide the president with a working majority on the committee. (Disclosure: Sohn is a member of the EFF board of directors.) The FCC was inactive in 2021 due to its lack of an active majority, despite all the public suffering. It should be clear that not confirming both Rosenworcel and Sohn would be tantamount to doing nothing, despite the new infrastructure law passed by Congress.
No one is going to big tech if the Federal Trade Commission remains understaffed
FTC Chair Lina Khan wants to improve the competitive landscape in the tech sector. She has written groundbreaking analysis on how antitrust and competition law should be updated. However, its goals remain in jeopardy if the agency is deadlocked with four sitting commissioners, instead of five.
Professor Alvaro Bedoya, a major critic of Big Tech’s corporate surveillance practices, was appointed by the president to fully staff the FTC following the departure of Commissioner Rhohit Chopra. Long known as a privacy hawk, Professor Bedoya is generally inclined to side with Khan on the importance of regulating Big Tech, especially when it comes to issues involving the surveillance business model. of business. This is why the EFF and many civil rights and privacy organizations support its confirmation to the FTC. Essentially, the confirmation of Professor Bedoya as Commissioner of the FTC will provide Chairman Khan with the majority of work needed to initiate the necessary restart of our competition policies and address the protection of consumer privacy when dealing with Big Tech. . Preventing or delaying his appointment serves only one purpose: to block these efforts.
NTIA has been given a huge job to bridge the digital divide but has no leader
Biden’s NTIA nominee Alan Davidson will be given one of the biggest jobs among the new candidates: spending $65 billion to build long-term infrastructure for all Americans. It will be a multi-year effort with a range of complex issues, guided by an agency that has never had a mission of this magnitude. The NTIA was in the driver’s seat in 2009, when Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, tasking the agency with implementing a much smaller $4 billion grant program.
All of this complicated work remains rudderless until the Senate confirms Davidson as NTIA Administrator to do the job. The absence of an administrator will significantly cripple the Biden administration and states’ efforts to close the digital divide.
There is a lot of work to do, all important and necessary. And this cannot be done until the Senate confirms these four candidates.