FCC Sued by U.S. Chamber of Commerce Over Digital Discrimination Rules





The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and two Texas business groups on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the Federal Communication Commission and its digital discrimination rules, claiming they’re too broad and potentially give the agency the power to dictate pricing.

“The lawsuit challenges the FCC for exceeding its statutory authority and acting arbitrarily and capriciously in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act,” the lawsuit said. “The FCC’s action will also make it more difficult to deploy broadband service to all Americans and communities due to increased compliance costs and stifled private sector investment. ”

In November, the FCC voted 3-2 in favor of rules designed to prevent the unfair exclusion of services based on income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin. The rules were part of a mandate set in the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, President Joe Biden’s $28.1 billion bill intended to improve everything from highways to access to high-speed internet. The rules empowered the FCC investigate complaints of discrimination and issue penalties. The intent was to ensure equal access and eliminate “digital redlining,” a practice in which internet service providers invest less in poorer areas — resulting in less access.

But the broadband industry questioned the “discriminatory effect” aspect of the rules, which they argue were too broad and vague. A legal challenge was inevitable. Joining the U.S. Chamber of Commerce were the Texas Association of Business and the Longview Chamber of Commerce.

The petition, filed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, calls the rules “arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion.”

“Unfortunately, the FCC’s new rule will hinder efforts to bridge the digital divide — hurting the very people it aims to help,” said Neil Bradley, executive vice president, chief policy officer, and head of strategic advocacy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “This rule not only empowers the Commission to micromanage the internet, but it also subverts the badly needed broadband investments included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act — making the task of connecting all Americans more difficult.”

A spokesman for the FCC declined to comment, but pointed to Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel’s comments from November, when she defended the rules as fair and part of its mandate from the White House and Congress.

“These rules are strong,” she said during the FCC meeting today. “When you consider Congress explicitly directed us to ‘prevent’ and ‘eliminate’ digital discrimination of access, they had better be.  But I would also argue that they are fair and reasonable.”

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