Jim Messer: Did acting FCC chair slow walk emergency broadband?
The National Broadband Map has big-time details on the connections available at each address in America.

Cell phone or mobile service tower in forested area of West Virginia providing broadband service
It’s not hard to imagine what life was like without internet access.

We know that rural broadband access is important to the Joe Biden administration.

After all, the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill promoted by the President included $65 billion to improve internet service in rural and underserved areas. That’s more than 5% of the total dollars that will be spent. In Florida alone, $100 million will go to broadband service for those who need it most.

This is why we were so disappointed and confused by Acting FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel’s apparent choice to delay by months the implementation of a different federal program that would have helped folks who desperately needed internet access and technology to use it during the height of the pandemic. If President Biden believes broadband service for rural and underserved communities is vital, his nominee to have the FCC Chair post on a permanent basis sure hasn’t openly shown she shares that view.

The program we’re talking about is called the Emergency Broadband Benefits (EBB) program. The main feature of the EBB is a $50-per-month discount toward broadband service, for millions of eligible households. Those families can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop or other computer if they contribute just $10 to the purchase.

The EBB program was up and ready to go in February. But Big Telecom companies wanted more time to get their ducks in a row (and, presumably, vacuum up the largest share of federal dollars possible). So rather than putting consumers first, the FCC’s own records seem to show that Rosenworcel capitulated to the special interests and delayed. One month. Then another. Then another.

For perspective, let’s remember just how big of a problem broadband access is in Florida and across the nation. As many as 2 million Floridians don’t have access to reliable broadband service, according to a recent op-ed by Congressman Al Lawson and that number is at 42 million nationwide, according to another study.

Meanwhile, the EBB implementation delays continued. It’s not hard to imagine what life was like without internet access.

Those easy telehealth appointments many of us have enjoyed? Can’t do it in underserved areas.

Students plugged into remote learning? Can’t do it.

Employees able to work from home, or unemployed to seek jobs online? Nope.

Not until several months had passed did the EBB program finally get implemented. By then, access delayed had been access denied.

This was a terrible decision by the FCC that Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel could have opted and advocated against. Now, she should be answering hard questions about those actions or inactions in front of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, which is currently considering her nomination to be the permanent chair of the FCC.

Sen. Rick Scott sits on that committee – and he rightfully should stand up, speak out, and fight for answers on behalf of Floridians and other Americans for whom such delayed actions cost them an unnecessary setback in life.

Any FCC chair nominee who may be easily influenced by Big Telecom special interests at the expense of the public interest and the most vulnerable Americans should face the highest level of scrutiny before being installed into this vital position in the U.S. government.

This might be a good time for the Commerce Committee to slow down Rosenworcel’s confirmation, just like she helped slow down crucial access to technology during a pandemic.


Attorney Jim Messer is a director of the Florida Alliance for Consumers and Taxpayers.

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