FCC to create advisory panel on diversity

FCC to create advisory panel on diversity
© Greg Nash

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will soon have a committee to advise the agency on promoting diversity in the communications industry, Chairman Ajit Pai announced on Monday.

“Every American should have the opportunity to participate in the communications marketplace, no matter their race, gender, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation,” Pai said in a statement.

The agency will solicit suggestions from the public on who should sit on the panel, which will be called the Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment.

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“This Committee will be charged with providing recommendations to the FCC on empowering all Americans,” Pai added in his statement.

“For example, the Committee could help the FCC promote diversity in the communications industry by assisting in the establishment of an incubator program and could identify ways to combat digital redlining," the concern that minority or poorer communities are covered by worse telecom infrastructure.

A report in March from two advocacy groups accused AT&T of engaging in the practice by neglecting to build out modern broadband technologies in poor neighborhoods in Cleveland.

Advocates say that digital redlining results in poorer communities being subject to costlier and less efficient broadband capabilities than suburban and affluent neighborhoods.

“Fulfilling the goal of universal service and making communications services affordable for all is critical to promoting economic opportunity and ensuring families can participate in modern economic and civic life,” Phillip Berenbroick, senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge, said when the report came out.

“Digital redlining and denying essential connectivity to low-income communities is contrary to America’s longstanding commitment to universal service and our values as a nation.”

The FCC has yet to address the allegations in the report, which was compiled using agency data by the nonprofit groups National Digital Inclusion Alliance and Connect Your Community.

It’s unclear what the new committee’s attitude will be toward allegations of digital redlining, or how much sway the board will have over FCC policy.

Aside from the mention of an incubator and cracking down on digital redling, the announcement was also vague on what the committee hopes to achieve. But Pai promised more details when he starts working to fill the committee's members.

The FCC has implemented similar initiatives in the past, but they appear to have fizzled out. The agency’s Advisory Committee for Diversity in the Digital Age, for instance, has not had a meeting since 2013.

The move comes less than a week after Pai pushed through a rule easing media ownership restrictions and making it easier for major broadcasters to purchase local broadcast stations.

Critics blasted the change, arguing it would hurt the diversity of voices in media.

Pai also took heat for making it harder for companies to participate in Lifeline, a program that subsidizes broadband access for low-income households.

The chairman, though, has insisted that he is committed to bridging the digital divide and expanding broadband access.

This story was updated at 1:44 p.m.