The FCC has released proposed final rules on preventing and eliminating digital discrimination. The rules, which seek to end “decisions that cause different communities to receive different access to broadband services,” will be voted on on November 15.
The rules, which aim to prevent discrimination in access to broadband services based on income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion and national origin, were mandated by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
Digital discrimination would be defined by the rules as “[p]olicies or practices, not justified by genuine issues of technical or economic feasibility, that (1) differentially impact consumers’ access to broadband internet access service based on their income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion or national origin, or (2) are intended to have such differential impact.”
The rules are designed to not just address the mindsets of those in the digital ecosystem. They also address outcomes of decisions even if they are “untainted by discriminatory intent,” according to the FCC. The rules protect broadband providers as well by enabling “case-by-case arguments that legitimate business impediments preclude equal access to broadband service in particular communities.”
Under these rules, the FCC has the power to:
- directly address companies’ policies and practices if they differentially impact consumers’ access to broadband internet access service or are intended to do so;
- apply these protections to ensure communities see equitable broadband deployment, network upgrades and maintenance;
- investigate possible discrimination of broadband access, work to solve and — when necessary — penalize companies for failing to meet the obligations defined in the rules;
- review consumer complaints of digital discrimination through an improved consumer complaint portal; and
- help protect both current and prospective subscribers’ access to a broadband internet service.
Last week, the FCC took another step that it considers within its mandate of ensuring that the public gets optimal telecommunications services by releasing a notice of proposed rulemaking that would reimpose guidelines for Net Neutrality, which also is known as Open Internet.