The FCC is seeking input on how to enhance digital equity by preventing and eliminating digital discrimination via a notice of inquiry (NOI) adopted yesterday.
The NOI is the beginning of a process to fulfill a directive to the commission that was included in the infrastructure act that was signed into law late last year. As a press release notes, the FCC is required to “combat digital discrimination, and to promote equal access to broadband across the country, regardless of income level, ethnicity, race, religion or national origin.”
In her comments, FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said she aims to make digital equity part of her legacy at the commission.
“I’m the first woman ever confirmed as chair of the FCC,” she said. “Here’s what I want to leave behind: a diverse agency that is more committed than ever before to realizing the power of broadband for all. I believe this goal is within reach. Now let’s use this proceeding to help make it happen.”
The FCC is seeking input on several questions, including:
- What rules it should adopt to facilitate equal access to broadband internet access service and prevent digital discrimination
- What other steps should be taken to eliminate digital discrimination
- What data the commission should rely on as it considers the issues
- How the commission should revise its public complaint process to accept complaints related to digital discrimination
Another move that Rosenworcel made in this direction was the creation last month of a cross-agency task force focused on preventing digital discrimination. The task force will oversee the development of model policies and best practices that states and local governments can adopt with the goal of ensuring that broadband providers do not engage in digital discrimination.
That could be easier said than done at a time when the concept of the “fiberhood” has gained considerable traction. Pioneered by Google, the fiberhood approach allows broadband providers to only build in portions of a city where the greatest demand is expected. Demand is often gauged by how many people sign up in advance to receive service.
It’s also worth noting that while digital equity seems to be a priority at the FCC, the infrastructure act gives more digital equity clout to the Commerce Department. The act includes $1.5 billion for a state digital equity capacity grant program, to be administered by the states under the supervision of Commerce, and $1.25 billion for a digital equity competitive grant program to be administered directly by Commerce.