WASHINGTON — On Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission approved new agency rules to prevent internet service providers from discriminating against customers. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced the rules in October, noting that they “address intentionally discriminatory conduct as well as conduct that contributes to discriminatory effects.” Rosenworcel also said the rules create a complaint process at the FCC that includes direct action from the agency’s enforcement bureau to seek remedies to such discrimination. Earlier this year, Free Press urged the FCC to adopt strong rules in this proceeding.
In 2021, Congress directed the FCC to enact rules that prohibit digital discrimination based on “income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin” by Nov. 15, 2023, which is the two-year anniversary of President Biden signing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law. That law included historic investments to close the digital divide, including the creation of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program.
Free Press Policy Director Joshua Stager said:
“We welcome today’s order to combat discrimination in the broadband market. There is mounting evidence that low-income families and people of color are more likely to live in monopoly service areas that have just one high-speed internet provider. This lack of competition can lead to lower-quality networks, poor service and higher prices. Congress was right to recognize these disparities when it gave the FCC the authority to enact today’s order.
“To fully tackle digital discrimination, the FCC also needs to restore its Title II authority over internet providers. We’re pleased the agency is moving forward on this front and encourage quick action to bring back the important oversight powers the agency needs to do its job.
“Today is also the two-year anniversary of the infrastructure law that Free Press Action strongly supported. We commend the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for their diligent work in implementing this law, which included historic provisions to close the digital divide. But much work remains. For example, the law’s ‘broadband nutrition label’ goes into effect next year, as does the disbursement of billions of dollars to deploy broadband networks.
“Most urgently, the Affordable Connectivity Program, which has been helping millions of low-income families afford internet service since 2021, will run out of funding next spring if Congress doesn’t act. The ACP is one of the infrastructure law’s biggest success stories. We urge Congress to extend funding for this essential program before the end of the year.”