Connectivity

Newest FCC commissioner talks AI, internet affordability

Anna Gomez brings a global perspective to domestic regulatory matters.
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Anna Gomez during the June 22, 2023, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation nomination hearing. Screenshot via Senate.gov

4 min read

At her first Federal Communications Commission meeting since gaining Senate confirmation, it became clear that Anna Gomez would be a changemaker.

Gomez, a Biden-nominated Democrat and the first Latina American confirmed to the post in more than 20 years, took her seat at the dais in the fall, almost immediately casting a tie-breaking vote that ultimately let the agency resurrect net-neutrality rules and delivering public remarks in both English and Spanish.

Tech Brew recently sat down with Gomez in her office at the FCC’s Washington, DC, headquarters to chat about her vision for the role and some of the biggest challenges facing the tech sector today: internet affordability and the rise of AI.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

I’d love to hear a little bit about the unique perspective you think you’re bringing to the commission. How are you carving out space to make a difference?

I’ve worked at the FCC, NTIA [National Telecommunications and Information Administration], the Hill, the White House, and the State Department. And so all of that kind of gives me a background where I really understand the issues before me very, very, very well…I have a lot of relationships that I’ve already developed with regulators around the world, because of the time that I spent at the State Department, leading the preparations for the World Radiocommunication Conference. And I continue to leverage that now.

How do you describe the importance of international internet governance and leadership and the US presenting a leadership role there?

We need to make sure that we are present, meeting with our counterparts in other countries, ensuring that US positions are well represented, and that we are there to enable outcomes that are beneficial to US industry and global competitiveness…Making sure that we have secured networks, for example, requires us to be constantly present in these international fora that are talking about these types of issues. We can’t be isolationist; we have to be working and trusted alongside our international partners.

Let’s turn to a big domestic issue that’s been on everybody’s mind: the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) expiration. What’s next for broadband affordability, and where do we go from here?

The ACP was, by far, the most successful internet affordability program that we’ve ever put in place. We had 23 million households eligible and signed up for the service. So losing the program is very concerning for me. I think it puts at risk the affordability for a lot of these households. Either they’re going to have increased prices, or they’re going to lose the service altogether. We will see in the months to come how this works.

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I have seen that there are a lot of providers who have committed to maintaining, at least till the end of this year, some of these low-price programs. So that makes me pivot then to my hope that Congress will, in fact, act to re-fund the program.

I’ve been very encouraged by the bipartisan, bicameral Universal Service [Fund] Working Group and the work that they’re doing, which would both fund the ACP but also make it part of the USF and [create] a more sustainable Universal Service Fund for the future.

Another thing that I think has been on everybody’s minds is the rise of AI, especially in an election year. What can we expect on the AI front from the FCC?

Artificial intelligence can do so much good. But it can also be used for nefarious purposes. And that is concerning. The FCC recently acted very quickly to make clear that the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act prohibits using artificial intelligence in robocalls and robotexts without, I guess, a consumer’s consent—which was important, because as you know, we’re heading into an election, and we had just seen an actor who used artificial intelligence to replicate President Biden’s voice, telling primary voters not to vote and to just wait until the [general] election.

The commission just took action as well, on a notice of apparent liability, against the actor and against the telecom company that didn’t follow all of the procedures that they should have followed to identify these calls as something to be [worried] about.

Now, [FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel] has circulated a notice of proposed rulemaking as well, that would require disclosures on political advertisements that use artificial intelligence. And that’s still in circulation now. But I think the idea is to make sure that consumers know when they’re looking at something that’s been generated through artificial intelligence. So I look forward to seeing what comes out of that notice…I think it’s an important transparency Initiative.

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Tech Brew keeps business leaders up-to-date on the latest innovations, automation advances, policy shifts, and more, so they can make informed decisions about tech.