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Last year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that it wanted to create rules to combat digital discrimination and digital redlining. The agency opened up a comments period for the public to weigh in on its plans, and now the opinions are flooding in.
Digital discrimination, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes, is when internet service providers (ISPs) build out their broadband networks in high-income areas, with lower-income users being left without access or slower access for higher prices. (As you might recall, earlier this month we looked at how lower-income Americans pay more for broadband than higher-income customers).
The agency’s push to tackle digital discrimination stems from theInfrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law by President Joe Biden in 2021. Specifically, the FCC wants to create a proposed definition of “digital discrimination of access,” revise its consumer complaint process to accept complaints of digital discrimination, and more.
Last year, the FCC asked the public to weigh in on the process, and the due date for submitting comments was earlier this week. More than 700 comments from various organizations came in, including numerous digital rights and civil rights groups.
Free Press, a digital rights organization, said the infrastructure law included the non-discrimination statute based on “mounting evidence” of low-income Americans living in areas covered by a broadband monopoly, andthat the FCCneeded to combat digital discrimination.
“Congress enacted this non-discrimination statute based on mounting evidence that low-income people and people of color are more likely to live in monopoly broadband areas, and are not able to enjoy the benefits of competition available to people living in more affluent areas,” the organization wrote in its comments to the agency.
It later added: “With Section 605061 of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Congress once again made a strong policy statement that Broadband Internet Access Service … should be available on an equitable basis to everyone in the U.S. Congress also instructed the Commission to identify and prevent discrimination based on economic and demographic characteristics of individuals and communities.”
Meanwhile, Public Knowledge, the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center said the Communications Act, which outlines the responsibilities of the FCC, made it clear that the agency should combat digital discrimination.
“In short, there is nothing more fundamental to the structure of the Communications Act and the duties of the Commission than ensuring for all Americans universal access, without discrimination, to communications services,” the groups wrote in their filing.
Why it matters
The coronavirus pandemic shined a bright light on the wild disparities the U.S. has in broadband access and affordability.
Numerous groups have pushed the Biden administration for years to ban digital discrimination and digital red lining, writing in 2020: ““The result of this digital redlining is the formation of a 1st class and 2nd class broadband infrastructure where wealthy communities easily access 21st-century opportunities with low cost, fast internet while everyone else is left behind.”