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Federal Communications Commission Seeking Black Hires, Geoffrey Starks Says



Screenshot from the webinar

March 13, 2021 – Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said Wednesday that he is making recruiting from historically black colleges and universities a priority as Black Americans increasingly fall in low-income demographics.

Speaking at a Wednesday forum on combatting systemic inequality before the Internet Innovation Alliance, Starks said there are a number of technical jobs, including engineering and legal, at the FCC.

In order to alleviate financial strain – and to tackle the problem of low-income Black Americans from taking on free internships for experience — Starks said he restarted paid internships at the agency to make sure that Blacks can both work and get the training they need.

“I’ll never forget that I sat down with a single mother of three,” Starks said as he recounted a story of him visiting the historic Selma, Alabama, community where he met a single mother of three children.

The mother shared with him her gratitude for broadband as it helped her complete assignments that eventually led her to get an online degree. Her children were also able to finish their homework safe at home instead of wandering the streets alone trying to find a Wi-Fi connection like others did, he said.

Starks also said that bold advocacy for reliable and affordable broadband in low-income communities, particularly for Black, Latino, and tribal households.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly reminded people of the shared commonality in healthcare, economic, and education opportunities. With no adequate broadband, such opportunities could be dashed.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit program, a supplement to Lifeline, is now the only program now designed to connect low-income individuals, said Starks. He said it will obviously “lift the boats of a number of people of color.”

While many people suffer in the digital divide, Starks said that those same people likely also suffer from food insecurity and may be on the government’s supplemental nutrition program. In passing the Emergency Broadband Benefit, Congress has specifically targeted food and digital support to ensure children’s daily needs and digital needs are being met, he said.

Starks also recounted meeting Willie Brewster, a principal from the Brenda Scott Academy in Detroit, Michigan – a school where more than 88 percent of the students there are Black. Among all students, 80 percent qualify for free or reduced price lunches.

Regarding historically black colleges and universities, Starks said he believed they need to have tools to continue shaping the leaders of tomorrow. “It is HBCU students, faculty, and alumni who continue to push for justice,” he said. According to the commissioner, 75 percent of students at such universities qualify for Pell grants, fulfilling a requirement making them eligible for the Emergency Broadband Benefit.

The discussion concluded with a lightning round “getting to know you” questions. When asked whether he prefers self-driving or flying cars, Starks replied, “a flying car is two deviations away from what I know.” He sided with self-driving cars.

He also prefers a phone to a tablet, and his favorite superhero is Black Panther.

Born in China and adopted to American Fork, Utah, Reporter Derek Shumway graduated from Brigham Young University with a bachelor's degree in political science and a minor in international strategy and diplomacy. At college, he started an LED lightbulb company. word


Former FCC Commissioner Says FCC Not Best Suited to Distribute Affordable Connectivity Program Funds

The FCC’s expertise does not translate to a social distribution mechanism.



Photo of Michael O'Rielly, former FCC Commissioner

WASHINGTON, June 5, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission is not well suited for distributing the funds in the Affordable Connectivity Program, said former FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly at a Brookings Institution event Monday. 

The ACP is currently subsidizing broadband access for over 17 million Americans with a discount of up to $30 and $75 a month for low-income and tribal households.

Although O’Rielly did not suggest an alternative solution, he indicated that social service offices could be better suited to distributing ACP funds than the FCC. 

The FCC can and should provide technical advice and insight on technical components of the program, he said, but it is “not well suited” to act as a social distribution mechanism. The FCC should participate in the umbrella structure of the ACP program provided another entity deals with the distribution process, he said. He assured the panel that doing so will not reduce the quality of broadband products to the end user. 

The FCC is responsible for managing the ACP Outreach Grant Program that provides funding to increase awareness of and participation in the ACP among eligible households. The program is made up of four grant programs: the National Competitive Outreach Program, the Tribal Competitive Outreach Program, the Your Home Your Internet Pilot Program and the ACP Navigator Pilot Program.  

A total of $70 million is available for the NCOP and TCOP grant programs. Grants through the YHYI and ACP Navigator program will offer up to $5 million in grants. The FCC has awarded $66 million in grants to date. 

Some of the large telecommunications companies have urged Congress to extend the ACP for the long-term, as they say there is a real concern that the $14-billion program could run out of funds by the first quarter of next year.

O’Rielly praised the ACP program as the “best structure we have to date” to achieve digital adoption goals. He expressed his support that the program be funded through congressional appropriations, which increases the level of control Congress has on the program.  

“Congress being involved is the only way to ensure the program is sustainable,” he said.  

In response to concerns that congressional appropriations will not support the program in the face of looming debts and the recent debt ceiling deal, O’Rielly said that the ACP program deserves appropriate scrutiny on its effectiveness but that it “can be defended” and “deserves additional funding.” 

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Senators Set Up Universal Service Fund Working Group, As Cruz Mounts Criticism of Broadband Program

A new Senate working group is set to consider reforms to the USF.



Photo of Ted Cruz

WASHINGTON, May 23, 2023 – Sens. Ben Lujan, D-N.M., and John Thune, R-S.D., announced a bipartisan Senate working group earlier this month that would evaluate and propose potential reforms to the Universal Service Fund and guide education, awareness, and policymaking on the topic. 

The USF, funded through a tax on voice service providers, supports four programs that make telephone and broadband services affordable for low-income households, health care providers, and schools and libraries. The fund’s sustainability has been under pressure with voice service revenues declining as more Americans use broadband services. 

The working group will consider the current state of the USF requirements and consider reforms that would ensure the Federal Communications Commission is able to achieve its mission of universal service across the United States. 

“Every community deserves a pathway to an affordable, resilient, and secure internet connection, and strengthening the Universal Service Fund is a key part of delivering our promise to connect every corner of America,” said Luján in a statement. 

Sen Shelley Capito, R-W.VA. said that, “All options need to be on the table to modernize and update the USF to encourage and maintain universal service with our sights set on a more responsible, predictable, and prudent USF.” 

Joining them in the working group are Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Shelley Capito, R-W.Va., Gary Peters, D-Mitch., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan.  

Competitive Carriers Association CEO Tim Donovan commended the announcement, saying “USF programs are critical for competitive carriers and the consumers they serve. Going forward, these programs must provide sustainable, predictable, and sufficient support.” 

Congressional legislation addressing USF concerns

The announcement follows the reintroduction of the Funding Affordable Internet with Reliable Contributions Act in March by Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Ben Lugan, D-N.M., Todd Young, R-Ind., and Mark Kelly, D-Ariz. 

The FAIR Act would direct the FCC to conduct a feasibility study on collecting contributions from internet edge providers. It has passed the house and has been received in the Senate, awaiting a vote. 

Later in March, a bill was introduced in both chambers that would require the FCC within one year of the enactment to solidify rules to reform how the fund is supported and conduct a study on the need to broaden the fund’s base. The Reforming Broadband Connectivity Act of 2023 is a version of a similar bill introduced in 2021. 

In August, the FCC submitted a letter to Congress, urging it to “provide the commission with the legislative tools needed to make changes to the contributions methodology and base” for the USF.  

Currently, there is “significant ambiguity in the record regarding the scope of the commission’s existing authority to broaden the base of contributors,” read the report. The FCC called for more power to make the necessary changes to support the program over the long term. 

Ted Cruz takes USF management to task

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., said in his opening statements to a Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Media and Broadband hearing on May 11 that the USF is unshackled from congressional control and the FCC has avoided accountability for its “wasteful” and “ineffective” spending.  

By this time, the fifth and sixth circuit appeals courts ruled in favor of the FCC when they denied a challenge to the commission’s authority in collecting money for the USF. Consumers’ Research alleged that the FCC was unconstitutionally delegating a private entity, the Universal Service Administrative Company, to help run USF programs. The court overruled the opinion, claiming that “Congress chose to ‘confer substantial discretion’ over administration of the USF to the FCC.” 

Cruz said the FCC has never held a commission-level vote on a USF tax increase, instead choosing to passively enable hikes through a bureaucratic process, claimed Cruz in his remarks. The FCC has a couple of weeks to either approve or challenge the amount determined by USAC that needs to be collected from voice service providers. 

“All told, the FCC has spent more than $156 billion on USF programs over the past twenty years. It’s unclear what American consumers have to show for it—other than higher phone bills,” Cruz said.

It is past due for Congress to get USF spending under control, he said. The solution is not to expand the base as it would not address the USF’s “underlying accountability failures.”

He called for Congress to consider all options of USF reform, “including subjecting it to the appropriations process, eliminating duplicative programs, and preserving only those efforts that demonstrate quantifiable benefits for American consumers.

“It has imposed ever-increasing tax burdens on American consumers without sufficient checks and balances or oversight from Congress,” he wrote, claiming that the USF has morphed into a “regressive, hidden tax.” 

Similarly, the FCC “claims the new ACP program is successful but offers no data showing it has increased broadband adoption among low-income Americans as intended,” he said, claiming that the FCC is not responsibly managing the funds and rejecting the suggestion to increase FCC legislative authority. The ACP provides a monthly discount of up to $30 and $75 on tribal lands for connectivity. 

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FCC Launches Emergency Broadband Benefit Program

The Emergency Broadband Benefit is designed to help economically disadvantaged households get reliable broadband at a subsidized rate.



May 12, 2021—Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced the official roll out of the Emergency Broadband Benefit to close the digital divide and address the homework gap facing students.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit kicked off Wednesday and is the nation’s largest broadband subsidy program to ever be enacted. The benefit is slated to last until the $3.2 billion allocated for the benefit runs out. 6.5 million Pell Grant recipients alone would qualify for the program, in addition to every household with students who qualify free school breakfast and lunch program.

The fund would provide $50 a month to qualified households and $75 a month for households on tribal land, in addition to a one-time reimbursement of $100 towards securing a laptop or tablet that can access broadband.

More than 824 broadband providers have committed to participating in the benefit. “We’re going to have a lot of competition,” Rosenworcel said. “That will allow households to choose the services that work for them.”

Additionally, Rosenworcel added that as many as 17 million students do not have broadband access at home. “These are the students who sit in fast food restaurants and do their homework with a side of fries,” she said. “These students are disproportionately black, Latino, and American Indian or Alaskan native, but you’re going to find them in every community in this country—rural and urban alike.”

She stated that connecting these students will be a crucial step in addressing the homework gap, and more broadly, the digital divide.

“This program, any successor program, the Emergency Connectivity Fund—they are all designed to help us reach that goal,” Rosenworcel concluded. “It is my hope that we do not stop until we reach 100 percent of our nation.”

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