The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) convened its first meeting of the Communications Equity and Diversity Council (CEDC) on Wednesday morning, introducing new membership and outlining priorities for its three working groups.
The CEDC is intended to be the new-and-improved version of its predecessor, the Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment (ACDDE), created in 2017 under then-Chairman Ajit Pai. In June 2021, Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel re-chartered the ACDDE as the CEDC, with a broader goal of reviewing diversity and equity issues across the tech sector, rather than just the media ecosystem which was the focus of ACDDE. [Ed. note: not to be confused with AC/DC, which has nothing to do with any of this.]
As per the 2021 charter, the CEDC's mission is to "make recommendations to the Commission on advancing equity in the provision of and access to digital communication services and products for all people of the United States, without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex or disability.
"It shall provide recommendations to the Commission on how to empower people of color and others who have been historically underserved, including persons who live in rural areas, and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality, to access, leverage, and benefit from the wide range of opportunities made possible by technology, communication services and next-generation networks."
The new Council is being led by three digital equity advocates appointed by Rosenworcel: including CEDC Chair Heather Gate, VP of digital inclusion at Connected Nation; and Vice Chairs Dr. Nicol Turner Lee, Ph.D., Brookings Institution; and Susan Au Allen, national president and CEO, US Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce Education Foundation.
Dr. Nicol Turner Lee joins this episode of The Divide to discuss what it means to be "digitally invisible" in the US and how to tackle the digital divide with better public policy.
In opening remarks at today's meeting, Rosenworcel said the CEDC is in keeping with her stated mission to incorporate digital equity in every element of the agency's work.
"At the start of this year, I set a new strategic goal for the FCC of promoting diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility," she said. "In other words, for the first time ever, we're going to look at it in everything we do. And you can already see evidence of that in our rulemakings, which now consistently ask a set of questions about diversity, and service to communities that for too long have been underserved and overlooked."
In addition to the CEDC chairs, the FCC named chairs for each of the council's three working groups, including: Robert Brooks of Howard University (Innovation and Access Working Group); Christopher Wood of the LGBT Technology Partnership & Institute (Diversity and Equity Working Group); and Dr. Dominique Harrison, Ph.D, of the Joint Center (Digital Empowerment and Inclusion Working Group).
The CEDC's working groups each have a stated mission spanning efforts to increase equity both when it comes to access and adoption, as well as within the telecommunications industry itself.
"Now is the time for our council to provide recommendations to the FCC that ensure equitable deployment of broadband to ensure that all can access broadband at speeds required to meet their needs, particularly in communities that have been historically underserved and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality," said CEDC Chair Heather Gates. "Now is the time for our council to make recommendations to the FCC that will break down barriers to digital communications ownership and supplier diversity. Because empowering women, people of color, people living in low-income, rural and urban areas, the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities is not only good for building individual wealth, it is good for our economy and it is good for our country."
The formation of the CEDC and its working groups comes at an ideal time for President Biden's broadband agenda. Should his $65 billion bill find its way through Congress and to his desk, it contains several digital equity provisions, including a requirement for the FCC to set rules preventing ISPs from engaging in "digital discrimination" (or "digital redlining"), which is one goal of the Digital Empowerment and Inclusion Working Group.
Of course, what the FCC ultimately gets done still depends somewhat on the official confirmation of Rosenworcel and Gigi Sohn to the agency, whose long-awaited nominations now sit with the Senate as the end of the legislative year rapidly approaches.
In addition to the chairs of the council and working groups, the FCC released a full list of CEDC members, which among others includes representatives from advocacy organizations like the National Urban League and GLAAD; and public policy reps from national ISPs Verizon, Charter and Comcast.
— Nicole Ferraro, site editor, Broadband World News; senior editor, global broadband coverage, Light Reading. Host of "The Divide" and "What's the Story?" on the Light Reading Podcast