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Navigating Digital Equity: FCC’s Strides and Stumbles

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On November 15, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will be making a significant stride towards addressing the issue of digital equity, as they attempt to establish means to guarantee unprejudiced access to broadband internet services. This follows the efforts of a task force, formulated by the FCC, that was instructed by Congress to develop a strategy for managing digital discrimination before November 2023, as outlined on the FCC’s official website.

In an increasing political climate, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel is introducing extensive measures aimed at removing unfair internet service practices. As Rosenworcel’s office succinctly pointed out in an October factsheet, her recommendations concentrate on eradicating any discrimination regarding broadband service accessibility due to income level, race, ethnicity, colour, religion, and national origin.

Interestingly, in line with Rosenworcel’s prospective regulations, the phrase “digital discrimination of access” refers to unjustified operations or procedures that adversely influence consumer’s access to broadband internet services due to the seven previously defined factors. By introducing these rules, consumers affected by technological or economic feasibility constraints will have the opportunity to pursue their discrimination cases, with the potential for sanctions levied against the offending companies.

Alongside, these regulations propose to implement an upgraded consumer complaint portal to more effectively handle reported cases of digital discrimination. As stated by Rosenworcel, “Our ultimate ambition is to facilitate equal access to broadband in accordance with the law.”

However, this policy has not been met without opposition. FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr publicly stated his intent to vote against the proposed rules, citing them as an overly aggressive attempt to regulate nearly every aspect of how the internet functions. Carr, who was nominated by former President Donald Trump, framed Rosenworcel’s recommendations as a part of “President Biden’s plan” and critiqued the current administration’s broadband policies as lacking.

Carr highlighted that the new regulations could mean the FCC gains the ability to issue unfunded directives to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and impose unlimited financial penalties. Furthermore, Carr asserted that new industries, such as landlords, construction crews, marketing agencies, and banks, could suddenly fall under the jurisdiction of the FCC. He argued that these external entities could be held responsible for any actions perceived by the FCC as hindering a consumer’s access to broadband, which he sees as an unwarranted expansion of the FCC’s control that was not authorised by Congress.

With such diverse perspectives on digital equity within the FCC, we can look forward to some engaging discussion during their November meeting.

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