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FCC wants help promoting diversity in the communications industry

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FCC

The Federal Communications Commission is forming a committee to help improve diversity and cut out inequalities online and elsewhere in the communications industry.

The group will be called the “Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment,” and for now its goals are a bit vague. In announcing its formation, FCC chairman Ajit Pai said the committee would “be charged with providing recommendations to the FCC on empowering all Americans” (emphasis his).

Pai gives two examples of what that could mean in practice: he says the committee could help the FCC set up a communications incubator, or it could help identify ways to stop digital redlining.

Digital redlining — the cutting off of low-income communities and communities of color from access to communications or online information — is a huge deal and certainly something it’d be good to see the commission better address. AT&T, for instance, was recently accused of ignoring low-income communities in Cleveland. (AT&T said the claim wasn’t accurate.)

“Every American should have the opportunity to participate in the communications marketplace, no matter their race, gender, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation,” Pai said in a statement announcing the group’s formation.

What we still don’t know is how much of a say the committee will have and who’ll be sitting on it. The FCC recently formed an advisory committee on broadband deployment consisting almost entirely of telecom companies and lobbying groups, which certainly speaks to the kind of suggestions it’s going to get. Applications aren’t open yet for this new committee, so it’s not clear what organizations the FCC is looking for input from.

Still, being able to see the committee’s recommendations — and whether the FCC ends up following them — will be telling.

Pai’s creation of the group comes after months of criticism from groups saying his actions are hurting low-income households and media diversity. One of his early actions slowed the expansion of broadband subsidies for houses near the poverty line, and an order he passed last week opened the door for additional consolidation among TV broadcasters, which Democrats fear will lead to fewer independent voices.