FCC adopts rules to eliminate ‘digital discrimination’ for communities with poor internet access
FCC adopts rules to eliminate 'digital discrimination' for communities with poor internet access The Associated Press
The Federal Communications Commission Enacts New Rules to Eliminate Discrimination in Access to Internet Services
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has enacted new rules intended to eliminate discrimination in access to internet services, a move which regulators are calling the first major U.S. digital civil rights policy.
Empowering the FCC to Address Discrimination in Broadband Access
- The rules package, ratified by the commission on Wednesday, empowers the agency to review and investigate instances of discrimination by broadband providers towards different communities based on income, race, ethnicity, and other protected classes.
- The order also provides a framework for the FCC to address disparities in the investment of services for different neighborhoods and the “digital divide,” which refers to the lack of internet access experienced by many communities due to regional or socioeconomic inequality.
FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel emphasized that Congress required the agency to adopt rules addressing digital discrimination through bipartisan infrastructure legislation passed at the start of the Biden administration.
“The digital divide puts us at an economic disadvantage as a country and disproportionately affects communities of color, lower-income areas, and rural areas,” Rosenworcel said in a statement to The Associated Press. “We know broadband is essential infrastructure for modern life, and these rules will bring us one step closer to ensuring everyone has access to the internet, no matter who they are or where they live.”
Poorer, less white neighborhoods were found to have received lower investment in broadband infrastructure and offered worse deals for internet service than comparatively whiter and higher-income areas. This inequity in access was especially pronounced during the pandemic.
Streamlining the Reporting Process for Digital Service Inequities
- There is currently no clear standard for tracking inequities in the provision of digital services. However, communities impacted by other discriminatory practices such as redlining and rural disinvestment report worse rates of service or outright lack of access.
- The FCC hopes that its new rules will streamline the process for reporting such issues to establish an official record of discrimination going forward.
The rules allow the agency to examine whether an internet service provider knowingly discriminated against a community in how it built, upgraded, or maintained internet access. They also provide a framework for determining whether a proposed service plan would create a “discriminatory effect” that couldn’t otherwise be avoided by reasonable steps.
Nicol Turner Lee, director of the Center for Technology Innovation at The Brookings Institution, noted that while the intent of the statute is to apply pressure to internet service providers to avert discrimination, it also eases the responsibility of states and localities receiving federal infrastructure funds to have that same responsibility.
Industry Opposition and Advocacy for Stronger Oversight
- The telecommunications industry has opposed the framework, arguing that the policy would hamper investment in communities by requiring unnecessary regulations. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the industry’s main trade association, called the new rules “potentially unlawful” and criticized the FCC for seeking “expansive new authority over virtually every aspect of the broadband marketplace.”
- On the other hand, Free Press Action, a digital advocacy group, applauded the new rules and called on the FCC to go further by reclassifying some aspects of broadband to bring about quick action to restore the agency’s oversight powers.
During the FCC hearing, Commissioner Brendan Carr argued that the new policies opened the agency up to potential litigation and would hamper operations by the telecommunications industry. He claimed that it was not about discrimination but about control. Carr had previously called the framework a “power grab.”
Commissioner Geoffrey Starks countered Carr’s argument, stating that ignoring disparate impact would have denied Congress’s directive to the agency. Starks emphasized that the rules adopted were not the end of their work.
Net Neutrality and Connecting Every U.S. Household to Quality Internet Service
The FCC is also poised to reimplement landmark net neutrality rules that were rescinded under the Trump administration. President Joe Biden has stated that the investments in the bipartisan infrastructure law are meant to connect every U.S. household to quality internet service by 2030, regardless of income or identity.
Christopher Ali, a professor of telecommunications at Pennsylvania State University, expressed the importance of ensuring that communities benefit from these decisions. He highlighted the need for more equitable deployment of resources rather than solely punishing companies.
It remains unclear how many complaints would be needed for the FCC to elevate an issue to an investigatory level. Community groups and local organizations are expected to play a vital role in reporting and addressing discrimination in access to internet services.
Matt Brown is a member of the AP’s Race and Ethnicity team. Follow him on social media.
SDGs, Targets, and Indicators
1. Which SDGs are addressed or connected to the issues highlighted in the article?
- SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities
- SDG 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
The article discusses the issue of discrimination in access to internet services based on income, race, ethnicity, and other protected classes. This relates to SDG 10, which aims to reduce inequalities within and among countries. It also relates to SDG 9, which focuses on building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and fostering innovation.
2. What specific targets under those SDGs can be identified based on the article’s content?
- Target 10.2: By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic, and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status.
- Target 9.C: Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the internet in least developed countries by 2020.
The article highlights the need to eliminate discrimination in access to internet services based on various factors. This aligns with Target 10.2 of SDG 10, which aims to promote social, economic, and political inclusion for all individuals. Additionally, the article mentions the importance of ensuring universal and affordable access to the internet, which relates to Target 9.C of SDG 9.
3. Are there any indicators mentioned or implied in the article that can be used to measure progress towards the identified targets?
- Indicator 10.2.1: Proportion of people living below 50 percent of median income, by age, sex, and persons with disabilities.
- Indicator 9.C.1: Proportion of population covered by a mobile network, by technology.
The article does not explicitly mention specific indicators. However, to measure progress towards Target 10.2 of SDG 10, the indicator 10.2.1 can be used. This indicator measures the proportion of people living below 50 percent of the median income, which can help assess the economic inclusion of different groups. For Target 9.C of SDG 9, the indicator 9.C.1 can be used to measure the proportion of the population covered by a mobile network, indicating access to information and communications technology.
SDGs, Targets, and Indicators Table
|SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities||Target 10.2: By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic, and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status.||Indicator 10.2.1: Proportion of people living below 50 percent of median income, by age, sex, and persons with disabilities.|
|SDG 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure||Target 9.C: Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the internet in least developed countries by 2020.||Indicator 9.C.1: Proportion of population covered by a mobile network, by technology.|
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