The Federal Communications Commission has approved a new set of rules aimed at preventing “digital discrimination.” It means the agency can hold telecommunications companies accountable for digitally discriminating against customers or providing certain communities with worse service (or no service at all) based on their income level, race or religion.
The new rules are part of the Biden Administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Act of 2021, which requires the FCC to develop and adopt digital anti-discrimination rules. “Many of the communities that today lack adequate broadband access are the same areas that suffer from enduring patterns of residential segregation and economic disadvantage.” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said after today’s vote. “It shows that minority status and income correlate with broadband access.”
Under the new rules, the FCC can fine telecommunications companies for failing to provide equal connectivity to different communities “without adequate justification,” such as financial or technical challenges to developing service in a particular area. The rules are specifically designed to address correlations between household income, race and internet speed.
Last year, a joint report of The market and the Associated Press found that AT&T, Verizon and other Internet service providers offer different speeds depending on the neighborhood in US cities. The report found that neighborhoods with lower incomes and fewer white people are stuck with slower Internet and at the same time time have to pay the same price as those with faster speeds. At the time, USTelecom, an organization representing major telecommunications providers, attributed the higher price to the need to maintain older equipment in certain communities.
The FCC was nearly divided over the new set of rules, as it passed with a 3-2 vote. Critics of the new policy argue that the rules are an overextension of the FCC’s power. Jonathan Spalter, CEO of USTelecom, says the FCC is “taking overly intrusive, unworkable, and ultimately harmful steps in the wrong direction.” Spalter adds that the framework “runs counter to” Congress’ goal of providing customers with equal access to the Internet.
“There is growing evidence that low-income families and people of color are more likely to live in monopoly service areas that have a single high-speed Internet provider,” Joshua Stager, policy director, says in a report. of the nonpartisan organization Free Press. statement. “This lack of competition can lead to lower quality networks, poor services and higher prices. “Congress was right to recognize these disparities when it gave the FCC the authority to promulgate today’s order.”
The FCC will also establish an “enhanced” customer portal, where the agency will file and review complaints about digital discrimination. It will take into account aspects such as broadband deployment, network upgrades and maintenance across communities when evaluating providers for potential rule violations, giving it the authority to hopefully ultimately address issues. disparities in Internet access across the United States.