FCC's Pai Plans Digital Diversity Empowerment Committee

Only a 'working' day after the FCC's new Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee held its first meeting (April 21), FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he is creating a new Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment.

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

"This Committee will be charged with providing recommendations to the FCC on empowering all Americans," he said in a 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"

Pai has been criticized from some interest groups and Hill Democrats for decisions like restoring the UHF discount and reversing lifeline broadband subsidy eligibilities which they argue hurt broadcast diversity and lower-income residents, many of whom are minorities.

Pai said the FCC will seek public comment and recommendations for committee membership.

"By chartering a new advisory committee on diversity, and expanding its jurisdiction to encompass closing the digital divide, Chairman Pai has brought the FCC back to its historic and nonpartisan public interest mission," said Kim Keenan, president of Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC) and herself a likely nominee to any such committee. "MMTC is especially pleased that the new committee will be charged with the tasks of developing a media incubator program as well as providing solutions to the vexing moral issue of telecom redlining.  This is a defining step toward closing the digital divide for every American."

“I am pleased that Chairman Pai intends to establish a new federal advisory committee, known as the Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment," said Democratic commissioner and former chair Mignon Clyburn. “While no single initiative will solve the digital and opportunities divide, I believe that the formation of this Committee is the first of many steps the FCC can take to ensure all Americans have access to robust and affordable communications services. I look forward to working with the Committee to advance these important goals.”  

The FCC had a Diversity Advisory Committee, but its charter expired without being reconstituted.

Former FCC Democratic Chairman Michael Copps, now an advisory to Common Cause, said the better route would have been to restore that committeea nd clearly had concerns about Pai's approach.

"It is unnecessary and harmful for Chairman Pai to replace the FCC's Diversity Advisory Committee, which for years drew on the expertise of diversity experts to generate valuable and vetted proposals to advance important diversity initiatives," he said. "Commission leadership from both parties too-often ignored that committee's proposals. But instead of reconstituting that committee and finally acting on its many extant recommendations, Chairman Pai has chosen to ignore it and create a new committee which will take months or longer to organize, meet, and come up with proposals. Given the Trump Administration’s track record of business friendly appointments, Pai is likely to select committee members who put corporate interests ahead of diversity. Shameful. It is decades beyond time for serious action to help minorities and women in media ownership. Pai's announcement is a serious step backwards."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.