FCC Seeks To End Digital Discrimination

The Federal Communications Commission on November 15 ratified new rules aimed at eliminating discrimination in accessing internet services which the FCC is describing as its first digital civil rights policy, the Associated Press reported.

The rules would empower the FCC to review and investigate Internet service providers for possible discrimination of services based on income, ethnicity, race, and other so-called “protected classes.” The rules also provide a framework for the agency to crack down on “digital inequities” and the so-called “digital divide.”

In a statement to the Associated Press, FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said Congress authorized the FCC to adopt rules to address digital discrimination as part of the bipartisan infrastructure legislation enacted in 2021.

Rosenworcel said the current “digital divide” places the country at an “economic disadvantage” and “disproportionately affects” low-income and rural areas as well as “communities of color.”

Describing broadband internet as “essential infrastructure for modern life,” Rosenworcel said the newly enacted rules would bring the country closer to ensuring all Americans have internet access no matter where they live or “who they are.”

The FCC hopes that its new rules package will streamline the process for reporting issues with internet access to create a record of digital discrimination.

The new rules will allow the FCC to investigate if an Internet service provider is knowingly discriminating against particular communities in how its Internet access is built, maintained, or upgraded.

In the November 15 FCC hearing on the new rules, commissioner Brendan Carr argued against the new policies, warning that the rules would open the FCC up to potential lawsuits and hamper the telecommunications industry’s operations.

Carr said the telecommunications industry entered a “Faustian bargain” when it supported the bipartisan infrastructure law.

He argued that the new rules were “not about discrimination” but “about control.”