The Federal Communications Commission wants to strengthen the agency’s efforts to stop digital discrimination – withholding or charging more for internet access based on race, income, religion, or other categories – but multiple broadband providers aren’t on board.
Last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, AT&T, Verizon, and other trade groups representing broadband companies met with the FCC to push back on the Commission’s proposed changes, according to Broadband Breakfast.
In October, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel proposed a “disparate impact” standard for identifying digital discrimination. Instead of focusing only on intentional acts of discrimination, the FCC will instead take into account seemingly neutral situations which lead to a negative, or discriminatory, outcome for internet users.
This means that some broadband providers could be in violation of the FCC’s rules even if they’re not intentionally restricting quality internet access from protected groups. While the agency is looking to remedy decades of network build outs that left different communities and protected groups behind, the broadband industry groups argue the standard is too broad and can lead to heavy-handed sanctions.
AT&T said it had concerns about the rules “sweeping and seemingly unrestrained scope.”
“The draft rules ignore the statute’s clear focus on broadband deployment and instead cast a net so wide it would capture every business decision a provider makes concerning how to sell its product, with little regard to the reasonableness (or usefulness) of that decision,” Caroline Van Wie, AT&T’s vice president of federal regulatory, said in a letter to the FCC Secretary Marlene H. Dortch.
The dissent gets at why it’s been so difficult to close the digital divide, with government agencies and broadband providers unable to even agree on the standards that dictate how network build outs should look. It also comes as the FCC is also trying to revive the rules governing a net neutrality, another policy that the broadband industry is steadfast against.
The proposed rules could also factor pricing into possible instances of discrimination. The order would require the cost for similar service tiers to be similar for different consumer groups. That’s one element that multiple internet providers have taken issue with.
In a letter to Dortch, The U.S. Chamber of Commerce argued that the Infrastructure Act doesn’t explicitly say that prices and rates fall under the FCC’s requirement to ensure equitable terms and conditions.
The FCC said the proposed rules would protect consumers – and potential subscribers – by directly addressing, investigating, and penalizing companies if their policies and practices negatively impact users’ broadband access – intentional or otherwise. In addition, the Commission said the rules would ensure equitable broadband deployment, upgrades, and maintenance. The rules would also create a better review system for consumer complaints.
The FCC will vote on the proposed final rules at its next open meeting on November 15 – also the deadline imposed by the Infrastructure Act to adopt a set of rules.