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The FCC wants your comments on preventing ‘digital discrimination’ in broadband availability

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Access to broadband is a must-have in today’s remote workplace, yet there are many places still where high-speed internet is unavailable, inconsistent, or overpriced. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission was assigned a job in last year’s Infrastructure Act: to improve this ongoing issue and “eliminate digital discrimination.” The agency has just begun the process of doing so and now’s your chance to make your voice heard.

“Section 60506 of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act directs us ‘to ensure that all people of the United States benefit from equal access’ to broadband,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. “It requires us to issue rules that facilitate this equal access, by preventing and eliminating digital discrimination, on the basis of ‘income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin.’ That is a tall task. To do this, we need input from stakeholders far and wide: from the public; from state, local, and Tribal governments; from public interest advocates; from academics; from the private sector; and from anyone else with information and ideas.”

Accordingly, the first step is not an order but a “notice of inquiry,” essentially a long list of questions that the FCC will need to answer in order to create an equitable and effective rule.

What constitutes discrimination? How can we quantify it? Who has authority over it? What is the cause? If the FCC is to “facilitate equal access,” what do those terms mean in context? How much can we expect broadband providers to cover on their own, and when should federal money be used to bridge the gap?

Dozens more questions like these can be found in the notice of inquiry posted on the FCC site. It’s important to get them straight first thing because the broadband industry is definitely one for loopholes. And since the idea is to define and protect vulnerable groups, what’s at stake is more than a couple of bucks on an internet bill. History has shown that internet providers, like any business, will do whatever they can to skim off a little of that government cash, even if it means defrauding the destitute.

The Infrastructure Act orders that this all be carried out by November 2023, which seems to leave plenty of time, but FCC rules are pretty slow to gestate. But your comment won’t slow things down — it will likely help reinforce ideas already under consideration there and help provide a distributed gut check for things like where and how digital discrimination is occurring.

If you’d like to leave a comment, first read through the notice and see what kinds of questions are being asked. Perhaps you have experienced redlining yourself and want to share some ways that geographic discrimination can be prevented. Maybe you have opinions on how complaints from consumers should be handled. Whatever the case, your input will be tallied and integrated.

Later, when the notice of proposed rulemaking comes out, there will be another comment period for further honing the language and approach, so you’ll have other opportunities. For now, you can leave a quick comment by going here and in the first field (Proceedings), put 22-69. That will attach it to this part of the effort. If you have longer thoughts or supporting figures that need to be expressed in file form, you can upload those here using the same number.

Rosenworcel certainly seems to think this is a big opportunity for the FCC to push things ahead and for her to make a mark:

John Lewis said “Every generation leaves behind a legacy. What that legacy will be is determined by the people of that generation. What legacy do you want to leave behind?”

I’m the first woman ever confirmed as Chair of the FCC. 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.

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