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CEDC Expected to Take On Digital Discrimination, DEI Pushback

Rising opposition to diversity, equity and inclusion policies puts the latest iteration of the Communications, Equity and Diversity Council in a difficult position, said several CEDC members Wednesday during the group’s first meeting under its new charter. “We have always been challenged in our work, but I cannot remember a time that we have been so challenged,” said former FCC Commissioner Henry Rivera, who has served on every FCC diversity committee dating to the 1980s.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel showed “courageousness” in rechartering the CEDC “at a time [when] we all know that we're involved in a very contentious debate around saving diversity and inclusion in the United States,” said CEDC Vice Chair Nichol Turner-Lee, a Brookings Institute senior fellow. Lawmakers sought to defund the CEDC in appropriations proposals last year (see 2311090073). “We will be looking to the CEDC to continue to lend its expertise to tackle the issues and topics head on and to help us do our best under the law to promote equity and diversity,” said Rosenworcel in taped remarks played at the meeting’s opening.

The CEDC’s new charter began in June and lasts until 2025. The council didn’t lay out specific goals under the new charter Wednesday, but early indications are that the group will focus on helping the FCC implement the agency’s digital discrimination rules. The digital discrimination order charged the CEDC with recommending appropriate criteria that would allow otherwise covered entities to avoid having their policies subject to the digital discrimination rules. Lisa Wilson Edwards, special adviser-digital equity and inclusion, briefed the group on the status of those rules Wednesday. The digital discrimination order used recommendations from the previous CEDC on state best practices.

Along with the digital discrimination rules, CEDC Chair Heather Gate pointed to the pushback nationwide against DEI policies, expected wind-down of the affordable connectivity program, the impact of AI on digital equity, and findings in the recent Section 706 Broadband Report as areas of potential CEDC interest. “As I look where we are today we have our work cut out for us,” said Gate, Connected Nation executive vice president-digital inclusion.

Gate said the CEDC will retain working groups from the previous charter: Diversity and Equity, Digital Empowerment and Inclusion, and Innovation and Access. The membership of those groups hasn’t been determined. Working groups will be assigned “in short order,” Gate said Wednesday.

The council returns partly under the same leadership as the previous charter -- Gate, Turner-Lee and Vice Chair Susan Au Allen, CEO of the US Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce, all retain their positions, but the FCC officials associated with the group have changed. Oversight of the CEDC was transferred from the Media Bureau to the Wireline Bureau, an FCC spokesperson told us. “That said, we will continue to draw on expertise from across the agency just as we did when it was housed in the Media Bureau,” the spokesperson added. Jamila Bess Johnson, the Media Bureau official who served as designated federal officer for the FCC’s several recent diversity committees, was replaced by Rodney MacDonald, assistant division chief of the Wireline Bureau’s Competition Policy Division. The FCC didn’t comment on why it changed the CEDC's bureau, but when Rosenworcel changed the Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment into the CEDC in 2021, she said that examining diversity, “strictly through the lens of traditional media” is “way too narrow,”