Two Key Hearings Target Government Overreach in Communications

NRB | December 1, 2023 | Advocacy, Advocacy News

This week, House lawmakers continued their efforts to spotlight and rein in federal government weaponization and regulatory overreach in the communications space, with key hearings probing government collusion to limit conservative speech and a new definition of “discrimination” in broadband deployment projects.

On Thursday, November 30, the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Communications & Technology held an FCC oversight hearing entitled “Oversight of President Biden’s Broadband Takeover,” while just a few doors away, the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government continued its examination of the federal government’s involvement in social media censorship. These hearings examined two sides of the same coin: government control of how the internet is accessed and used. 

Hearing on the Weaponization of the Federal Government

The Select Subcommittee hearing revealed further details of the government’s direct intervention to abridge First Amendment freedoms in the last several years. The latest in a multi-hearing saga spurred by the release of the “Twitter Files” (select internal Twitter documents that detailed government collusion) on December 2, 2022, this hearing featured repeat witnesses Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger as well as Canada-based journalist Rupa Subramanya and former homeland security advisor Olivia Troye. 

The hearing included detailed accounts of intervention from domestic and foreign intelligence (including election interference), correspondence between federal government personnel and tech platforms, efforts to limit the reach of conservative accounts, and more, including testimony from Shellenberger that military contractors for the U.S. and the United Kingdom have used disinformation tactics to silence Americans. Watch the full hearing here.

Oversight of President Biden’s Broadband Takeover

Meanwhile, the FCC oversight hearing was the first time that a fully-seated Commission has appeared before Congress in several years, as commissioners were questioned extensively on new regulatory measures initiated under the auspices of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). 

Energy & Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) stated, “Rather than focusing on intentional discrimination against historically marginalized groups, as Congress intended, the Biden administration is once again unilaterally expanding the power of unelected bureaucrats under the guise of equity.”

The Commission recently approved rules that would apply an overbroad “disparate impact” standard to broadband deployment activities in an effort to scrub so-called “digital discrimination” from the broadband market. The FCC’s new rules exceed Congressional intent and would empower the regulatory body to further scrutinize the practices of the broadband industry and dictate to internet providers where to build, what rates to charge, what services to offer, and how to market them, while exempting the government’s own broadband initiatives from such standards. The hearing addressed a handful of broadcasting issues, as well, such as maintaining AM radio in electric vehicles and the state of the video marketplace. Watch the full FCC oversight hearing here. 

State-sanctioned censorship of religious viewpoints directly violates the First Amendment, and overreach in agency rulemaking opens the door to these types of abuses. In 2023, NRB approved a board resolution titled “Opposing the Weaponization of the Federal Government,” which warned that “collusion between the federal government and social media platforms has been documented as significantly limiting the voices of Christian communicators and hindering their ability to reach their audiences, raise support, and conduct business” and “lawmakers have attempted to use their authority to pressure tech companies into silencing and suppressing Christian communicators.” NRB works to ensure a fair, open environment in which viewpoint diversity can thrive and broadcasters can openly exercise their right to religious free speech.

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