Biden Administration Urges FCC To Adopt Strong Protections Against Digital Discrimination

The Biden administration moves to support equal access to broadband for all by ending digital redlining.

Today, the National Telecommunications Information Administration filed a letter with the Federal Communications Commission on behalf of the Biden administration urging the FCC to adopt strong rules to end “digital redlining” by requiring internet service providers to offer equal access to broadband throughout their entire service area. The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 requires the FCC to adopt rules to prevent broadband providers from discriminating on the basis of “income level, race, ethnicity, color or national origin.” Congress adopted this provision in response to numerous reports that ISPs investing millions to deploy fiber were refusing to invest in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. The statute requires the FCC to issue final rules by this November. 

A major issue in the proceeding is whether a complaint must prove explicit intent to discriminate (a standard called “disparate treatment”) or whether it is enough to show a pattern of behavior that discriminates (“disparate impact”). Because it is often difficult to find evidence of explicit intent, most civil rights laws permit complainants to use the disparate impact standard. Civil rights advocates and public interest advocates, including Public Knowledge, continue urging the FCC to adopt strong rules and to use the disparate impact standard. The NTIA letter takes the same position.

The following can be attributed to Harold Feld, Senior Vice President at Public Knowledge:

“Today, the Biden administration takes a strong stand for digital equality for everyone. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, no one questions that broadband access is a ‘must have,’ not a ‘nice to have.’ But not all broadband is equal, and those without equal access to broadband suffer serious consequences. As our lives increasingly move online, the refusal of broadband providers to invest in networks in some neighborhoods while deploying fiber in others means that families only a few blocks from each other will be increasingly cut out of our digital future.

“Congress understood this. As part of its multibillion dollar investment of public money to close the digital divide, Congress ordered the FCC to create rules that will prevent this kind of discrimination and stop broadband providers from engaging in digital redlining. The Biden administration has now thrown its full support behind making sure that all Americans have the same opportunity to participate in our digital future. We expect that the FCC will adopt rules in November that reflect both this bipartisan Congressional command and the Biden administration’s commitment to end digital redlining and ensure equal access to broadband for all.”

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