The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will meet to establish a framework to facilitate equal access to broadband internet access at their Nov. 15 meeting, but one commissioner has already come out in opposition to the proposed new rules
Digital equity will be on the docket but not all commissioners will be on the same page when the FCC meets Nov. 15 to decide how to best ensure equal access to broadband internet service by preventing digital discrimination of access.
The FCC previously created a task force to investigate ways to prevent digital discrimination. The task force was given a deadline to complete their work by November 2023, as directed by Congress in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, according to the FCC’s website. Now, with the FCC ready to address digital discrimination, a political confrontation has developed regarding rules being proposed by FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.
An October factsheet released by Rosenworcel’s office detailed the proposed rules, which her office said are intended to “prevent and eliminate digital discrimination.”
“Chairwoman Rosenworcel is proposing final rules to prevent discrimination in access to broadband services based on income level, race, ethnicity, colour, religion, and national origin,” the factsheet stated. “Under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, the FCC is required to take steps to ensure that all Americans have equal access to broadband services and without discrimination based on the characteristics listed in the statute.”
According to Rosenworcel’s office, the chairwoman’s proposed rules would define the term “digital discrimination of access” as “policies or practices, not justified by genuine issues of technical or economic feasibility that differentially impact consumers’ access to broadband internet access service based on their income level, race, ethnicity, colour, religion or national origin, or are intended to have such differential impact.”
Rosenworcel’s office argued the proposed rules will benefit consumers by directly addressing companies’ policies and practices if they differentially impact consumers’ access to broadband and by applying protections to ensure communities see equitable broadband deployment, network upgrades, and maintenance.
Rosenworcel’s office said the proposed rules would allow for possible instances of discrimination of broadband access to be investigated, and for potential penalties to be assessed against companies that fail to meet the obligations in the proposed rules.
The proposed rules would additionally lead to the creation of an improved consumer complaint portal where consumer complaints of digital discrimination could be accepted, Rosenworcel’s office said.
“We recognise that the ultimate goal of this proceeding is to facilitate equal access to broadband just as the law says,” said Rosenworcel, who was first nominated by President Barack Obama and has served under two other presidents.
The FCC’s November meeting will occur days after FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr released a statement that announced his intention to vote against Rosenworcel’s proposed rules.
In a Nov. 6 release to the media, Carr called Rosenworcel’s proposed rules “central planning” and said they would serve as “a roving mandate to micromanage nearly every aspect of how the internet functions.”
Carr, who has been confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate three times since first being nominated by former President Donald Trump, referred to Rosenworcel’s proposed rules as “President Biden’s plan” and said “the administration’s broadband policies are failing.”
Among several included reasons, Carr will oppose Rosenworcel’s proposed rules because, according to Carr, they’d allow the FCC to “impose unfunded build mandates on ISPs” and assess unlimited monetary fines.
Carr said the proposed rules would place new industries under the jurisdiction of the FCC for the first time. In his release to the media, Carr explained why that factored into his opposition.
He said landlords, construction crews, marketing agencies, and banks will become liable for any act or omission that the FCC determined has had an impermissible impact on a consumer’s access to broadband if Rosenworcel’s proposed rules are passed.
“Congress never authorised the FCC to regulate these industries or entities,” he said. “So, to all the businesses and individuals that will be subject to FCC regulation for the first time ever, welcome, I hope you have good lawyers.”