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Republican Communications Commissioners Decline to Support Additional Broadband Funding, Also Blast Big Tech

Elijah Labby

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Photo of Federal Communications Commissioners Michael O'Rielly and Jessica Rosenworcel by New America used with permission

June 24, 2020 — The Federal Communications Commission needs increased funding of an unknown amount for its broadband subsidy projects, said Comissioners Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr in a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing Wednesday.

When Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., asked O’Rielly and Carr whether they thought the Lifeline program, which provides broadband subsidies for low-income Americans, was necessary, the commissioners said yes.

However, when Blumenthal asked if they would support his call for the Senate to allocate one billion dollars to the FCC, O’Rielly said that he was not confident in the proposed number.

“I’m not against more money,” he said. “I just don’t know how much more we’re talking about… I can’t tell you that what the number is.”

Blumenthal appeared surprised at the reluctance to endorse his request. “Are you telling this committee you have no idea how much more money is necessary?” he asked.

“I’m saying I don’t know if a billion dollars is the right number or the wrong number,” Carr responded. “Could be more, could be less.”

The commissioners also faced questions from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who asked the panel about alleged anti-conservative discrimination by major social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

Referring to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects the right of social media companies to choose their approach to content moderation, Cruz expressed concern about tech overreach.

“Do you agree that it is a problem that a handful of Silicon Valley billionaires have unfettered power to silence speech with which they disagree with no transparency and no accountability whatsoever for those decisions?” he asked.

Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioner O’Rielly agreed that it was.

“I believe the transparency has been horrible,” said O’Rielly. “How they’ve treated different groups, specifically conservatives, has been horrible.”

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was hesitant to say that the platforms’ behavior was unconstitutional. However, she said that she was open to reconsidering the section.

“I would understand and support the efforts of this committee and Congress to try to revisit this law,” she said, “but as you said, it is complicated.”

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