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Equity, Diversity

Revamp Coming, Another FCC ACDDE Vote Controversial

The FCC Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment will be rechartered with a broader focus as the Communications Equity and Diversity Council, acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced Thursday at the virtual, final meeting of ACDDE’s current charter. “The Council’s mission will expand from its initial focus on the media ecosystem to review more broadly critical diversity and equity issues across the tech sector,” said an agency news release Thursday. One meeting vote was divisive.

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ACDDE voted on recommendations to the FCC, including an examination of the way tribal libraries are defined. The contested proposal is that the agency collect supplier diversity data from companies that receive federal dollars or subsidies to fund 5G deployment. Comcast's Rudy Brioche objected to language that he said seemed to give the FCC authority to require information from licensees. “If there is no transparency as to who wins those contracts ... the small ones will keep staying at the bottom,” countered US Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce CEO Susan Au Allen. ACDDE voted on the recommendation with adjusted language.

The new council will have a two-year charter, Rosenworcel said. She asked the current membership to consider staying on for the new one, and said a public notice on the application process will be released in coming weeks. Rosenworcel said she changed the name to “streamline” things and reflect the broader mission. This iteration of the ACDDE has been meeting since 2017. Commissioners Nathan Simington, Brendan Carr and Geoffrey Starks also addressed and praised the ACDDE. Starks suggested the committee was among the FCC’s most productive. Media Bureau Attorney-Adviser Jamila Bess Johnson remains designated federal officer for the new panel.

The Supplier Diversity subgroup initially recommended the FCC start collecting supplier diversity data on a voluntary basis from companies that receive federal assistance to fund 5G deployment, but that language was softened after Brioche’s objection. The group eventually approved recommending increased transparency from companies on supplier diversity and that the future Communications Equity and Diversity Council gather more supplier diversity information. The working group went off the record for 10 minutes to negotiate the changed language. The supplier diversity information is intended to be used for workshops to raise awareness about federal programs that could benefit diverse suppliers.

​​​​​​​All of ACDDE’s other recommendations were approved unanimously without objection, including one from the Digital Inclusion WG that the agency revisit the way it defines libraries eligible for E-rate funding to avoid excluding libraries on tribal lands. Libraries can serve multiple functions in tribal communities, acting as community centers or “culture-keepers” without always meeting a state’s definition of a library, said WG member Ian Skorodin, Barcid Foundation CEO.

​​​​​​​The group's recommendations included advising the agency to continue its incubator program for radio and extend it to TV, and support legislation to resurrect the minority tax certificate. That legislation should include provisions requiring an FCC rulemaking on a “safe harbor percentage” of equity debt and voting power to determine whether a broadcaster is controlled by diverse owners, the ACDDE recommended.

​​​​​​​The FCC should also consider creating a new temporary business internet subsidy “to ensure minority, women-owned and small businesses that can be deemed as disadvantaged can stay connected to the internet,” said Fallon Wilson of the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council and the diversity subpanel. “Women and people of color still need to feel welcomed in new emerging businesses,” said WG Chair Nicol Turner-Lee, of the Brookings Institution. “Industries are going to require more of us, because we now make up a huge portion of that workforce.”