Jim Kohlenberger is a former White House technology advisor who served two U.S. Presidents and sits on the board of the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.
Among the crazy viral videos making the rounds last year, one shows a car careening down the highway trying to make progress with one of its front tires completely missing. You don’t need to watch the video to know that you can’t drive a car with a missing front tire. It’s frankly laughable that someone would even try. Yet that’s exactly the car the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been forced to drive for the past year, during one of the most consequential times in the history of communications.
We cannot navigate our digital future and make gains on the road to progress without a fully functioning, five commissioner FCC. The Biden Administration renominated Gigi Sohn and now the US Senate must move swiftly to confirm her as that 5th Commissioner so that the FCC can move expeditiously on its mission. We stand at the precipice of one of the most profound moments in our digital history. The coming months will bring a set of critical FCC decisions that will define the scale, scope and speed of our digital transformation — impacting the breadth and potential of what we can achieve with our digital landscape for decades to come.
One of the most important and time-sensitive components is to deliver on what the US Congress has required – to rapidly deploy precise broadband maps to guide the once-in-a-lifetime investments Congress wisely included in the bipartisan infrastructure bill. We’ve got one shot at these maps and we are running out of time to do them, and do them right.
The FCC is also tasked with establishing the long-term framework for the new $14.2 billion Affordable Connectivity Program — a huge and historic opportunity to craft smart rules to ensure that every American has the broadband they need to learn, work, and thrive. And the rest of the digital future won’t wait either. The FCC also needs to develop a robust, effective and efficient spectrum strategy to realize the full promise and potential of our next-generation wireless future from 5G to beyond. The historic nature of these and a dozen other impactful FCC decisions will determine who, how, and when consumers can benefit from the vast digital opportunities just over the horizon. And the only way we get there is with an FCC firing on all cylinders with a full slate of Commissioners to balance, inform, and guide pragmatic policy choices across such a wide range of issues.
We are incredibly lucky that President Biden has nominated Sohn to fill the void at the FCC as she is by far one of the most capable and experienced communication policy leaders I’ve ever known. Over the last several decades, I’ve had the privilege to see firsthand her expertise and experience in advancing our digital future. She has been at the forefront of some of the most important communications policy issues for more than three decades, including efforts to close the digital divide, ensure every American has access to high quality broadband, and improve access for diverse voices.
While at the FCC under Chairman Wheeler, she helped modernize critical broadband programs that enabled the country to connect every school with high-speed broadband, connect every classroom with Wi-Fi, and vastly expand communications opportunities for low-income Americans. She’s not only a policy expert, but also has an innate ability to find ways to bring divergent voices together, finding common ground, in ways that can advance pragmatic policy choices backed by broad consensus. It’s no wonder she has received endorsements from leaders on both the right and the left as the most qualified candidate for Commissioner.
Almost a year in without all five commissioners at the table, it’s time the Senate gives the FCC the full slate of qualified leaders it needs to drive our communication future forward by swiftly confirming Sohn without delay. In the race for our future, we simply can’t afford to be one crucial leader down.