Fox News pressed to ask debate questions about Internet access

Nearly 40 groups sent a letter to Fox News urging Thursday night’s presidential debate moderators to ask the candidates how they would expand Internet access — especially in poor, rural and minority communities. 

The letter coincides with the 11th GOP debate scheduled for Thursday night and is addressed to Megan Kelly, Bret Baier and Chris Wallace. Letters also went out to the remaining primary debate moderators as well, including CNN, The Washington Post and Univision. 

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“Access to broadband Internet is an important issue that Americans agree on, but it has been largely absent in both the campaigns and debates in the presidential race thus far,” the letter reads

Cybersecurity, surveillance and encryption have been topics in a number of debates. But few other technology issues have received much attention. 

The groups Thursday called home Internet access an indispensable “necessity.”

Citing recent Pew Research surveys, the groups note that broadband Internet adoption rates are lowest among African-Americans, Hispanics, rural residents and families earning less than $20,000 a year. 

The letter was signed by tech advocates, civil rights organizations and consumer advocates. It included high profile signors like the American Library Association, the NAACP and Public Knowledge and also more obscure groups like the Harry Potter Alliance. 

The groups proposed their own question for Fox: “If you are elected president, what will you do to ensure that all Americans have affordable access to this vital tool?”

Internet access is gearing up to be a huge topic for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), as it is soon expected to approve regulations to provide subsidies so low-income Americans can purchase Internet service. The FCC’s lifeline program already gives out phone subsidies, but the Democratic commissioners have proposed to expand the $1.7 billion program to cover Internet service as well. 

A broad cross section of Internet service providers, wireless carriers and consumer groups have supported the expansion, as long as a number of reforms are also made. 

The Obama administration has taken a number of steps to expand service, and private companies like Comcast and Google offer some discounted services. 

In 2014, the FCC voted to hike fees in order to expand a program that provides Internet connections for schools and libraries. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has implemented a new plan to equip new low-income housing with Internet connections. And the administration has urged local municipalities to provide their own Internet service, overriding state laws that limit the buildout.