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Gomez: ACP Lapse Would Have Major 'Downstream Effect'

Allowing the affordable connectivity program to lapse would have “significant downstream effect” on the economy, said FCC Commissioner Anna Gomez during a Q&A at ITI’s Intersect event Wednesday.

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Gomez said that once the FCC’s funding for the program runs out in April, the digital divide will worsen, cost savings to Medicare and Medicaid from telehealth will vanish, and it will be harder for rural consumers to stay connected. The internet “has become so central to our lives now that those who cannot be connected will fall farther and farther behind.”

Gomez also urged Congress to return the FCC’s spectrum auction authority. Without it, “there is a lot of work that the commission now cannot do to prepare for additional auctions of spectrum,” Gomez said.

Gomez said she is still “finessing” her regulatory philosophy but wants to ensure U.S. users have affordable broadband access, and that the media marketplace is diverse, competitive and preserves localism.

Gomez praised the FCC’s proposal for a cyber-trust mark for consumer devices. “It could become a real competitive edge if adopted widely enough, she said. The FCC is looking at how AI could improve accessibility and spectrum management as well as AI's implications for robocalls. Gomez said she has already voted to approve a draft declaratory ruling circulated last week that would make using AI voice cloning illegal under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (see 2401310082).

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Amazon General Counsel David Zapolsky discussed the implications of AI technology in separate remarks at ITI’s event. Lofgren noted the continued discussion surrounding Communications Decency Act Section 230, which provides tech platforms liability protection for content they host.

I don’t think 230 has any application to AI whatsoever,” said Lofgren. “The whole theory of 230 was to protect free speech, and it’s not an issue for AI.” The real question is what data ingestion means for “humankind,” she said. In addition, policymakers must determine the proper level of transparency for data ingestion, she said: This means better access to high-quality data, so AI can be improved.

The barrier to entry for AI service providing is “very high” in terms of computing power, said Lofgren: “As much as I love the private sector, AI should not be owned by three companies in the U.S. It should also be accessible to the academic community and to researchers and to startups.”

Senate Judiciary Committee members will focus on AI and the creative community, Blackburn said. The House Judiciary Committee discussed legislative solutions on that topic during a hearing on Friday (see 2402020062). Blackburn said senators are centered on strengthening intellectual property protections, so creators can benefit from their work when AI systems ingest it.

Given all the attention on AI, there’s an opportunity “to build some consensus,” said Zapolsky. The approach, he said, should be to work backward from “use cases,” identify risks and establish “appropriate guardrails” and “voluntary best practices.”