Gigi Sohn testifies before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on February 9, 2022., during her nomination hearing. The full Senate has not voted on her nomination to serve on the Federal Communications Commission. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool)

This summer, as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law, Congress provided $65 billion to ensure that every American has affordable and robust broadband internet. While the details were heavily debated, there was no argument that broadband is a necessity, and that the government had to make a big bet to get everyone connected, no matter who they are or where they live. The need is particularly great in rural America, where tens of millions of households still lack broadband at the bare minimum speeds and where broadband is vital to the economy, the education system, the agricultural sector, and to the provision of health care services.

But the goal of universal broadband for every American household won’t be accomplished until the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is at full strength. President Biden has nominated long-time consumer advocate and communications policy expert Gigi Sohn to fill this role, but she has not yet been confirmed. The Senate should do so without delay.

There is no doubt that Sohn is dedicated to ensuring that everyone in rural America is connected. She worked with industry and members of Congress to help develop what is now the $14 billion Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides financial support for low-income Americans and those living on tribal lands to obtain access. She also worked to help shape the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which provides over $45 billion to deploy broadband in rural America and tribal lands and another nearly $20 billion to ensure that low-income households can afford broadband and have the skills and the means to use it.

Some have taken Sohn’s public statements out of context in an effort to portray her as somehow not supportive of rural broadband deployment. But nothing could be further from the truth. What her statements reveal is that she has been critical of the FCC for not ensuring that past federal investments served the long-term interests of rural communities. For example, in a 2021 speech she gave to the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, Sohn said:

“Over the past decade, the FCC…has spent well over $50 billion to build out broadband networks in rural areas. That’s probably enough money to build fiber-optic networks to every rural home and business in the country. What return has the American ratepayer gotten on her investment? Painfully slow networks and….42 million Americans who still don’t have broadband available to them at any price.”

Gigi Sohn believes that the FCC, as well as other federal and state agencies, must adopt best practices to ensure that those who receive government funding deploy future-proof broadband networks in rural America in a timely manner. For example, she has urged government agencies to carefully oversee the building of those networks and that they hold accountable those network providers who don’t keep their promises. To be sure, Sohn has been critical of big companies that haven’t kept their promises, which some of them have done multiple times. But that criticism has been in service of getting more and faster broadband to rural America quickly.

We must ensure this once in a lifetime investment by Congress in broadband does not go to waste. To do that, we need government officials like Gigi Sohn to make sure that these investments accomplish Congress’ goal of universal broadband.

Chad Rupe recently served as Rural Utilities Service Administrator at USDA as a presidential appointee for President Trump. He led the successful development and deployment of the ReConnect program and Smart Grid under the 2018 Farm Bill.

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