Free Press Calls on the FCC to Adopt Broad Anti-Discrimination Rules
WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, Free Press urged the Federal Communications Commission to adopt broad rules against digital discrimination by broadband-access providers — rules that Congress required when it created and funded the $42.5-billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program for rural broadband deployment, and the $14.25-billion Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) to help make broadband more affordable for low-income families.
These rules, which must prohibit digital discrimination based on “income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin,” are particularly necessary given the Trump FCC’s capricious 2017 decision to repeal the agency’s Title II authority, Free Press wrote in comments submitted to the agency. Title II would have given the FCC the authority it needs to prohibit unjust discrimination in broadband deployment and marketing.
“Title II of the Communications Act centers the principles of non-discrimination, affordable universal service, competition, and public safety,” Free Press wrote. “Contrary to industry’s revisionist history, Title II is not simply a framework for monopolies offering telephone service, but a robust blueprint for achieving these universal service, non-discrimination, public safety and competition goals – a framework that Congress intended to apply to today’s mass market broadband services.”
Free Press’ comments are available here.
Free Press Senior Advisor, Economic and Policy Analysis S. Derek Turner said:
“Free Press supports the FCC’s proposal to adopt rules barring digital discrimination, and applauds the Commission’s decision to bar discrimination whether it is intentional, or simply due to broader structural factors.
“There is mounting evidence that low-income families and people of color are more likely to live in monopoly service areas — where there’s just a single high-speed internet provider — and are unable to enjoy the competitive benefits that people living in more affluent areas might receive. These economic and racial disparities are what motivated Congress to direct the FCC to adopt rules prohibiting digital discrimination.
“Contrary to certain industry representatives, we don’t believe that Congress intended for the FCC to create so-called economic-feasibility loopholes in its rules, which would render the policy completely toothless. Nor do we think Congress intended the FCC to saddle ratepayers with the financial burden of subsidizing profitable telecom companies’ fiber upgrades, investments that they should have made long ago.
“Instead, we believe that the best way to address monopoly harms is to identify and sanction the monopoly providers that impose discriminatory terms and conditions. Congress clearly gave the FCC the authority to take the necessary steps to ensure that all people benefit from equal access to broadband, and it can do exactly that by protecting marginalized communities from predatory monopoly behavior.
“Congress gave the FCC the tools needed to ensure every person benefits from equal access to broadband. The agency should reject industry calls to abandon its authority to protect communities from discrimination. In particular, the FCC has the responsibility to act to protect people living in monopoly areas, and ensure that everyone can enjoy the benefits of broadband competition.”