Sen. Schumer, Democrats, FCC Chairwoman Tout Anti-Discrimination Rules

The FCC approved on Wednesday new policies to address gaps in broadband access.

Sen. Schumer, Democrats, FCC Chairwoman Tout Anti-Discrimination Rules
Screenshot of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer at the press conference Wednesday.

WASHINGTON, November 15, 2023 – Federal Communications Commission leaders and Congressional Democrats touted the agency’s new digital discrimination rules at a press conference on Wednesday.

The commission approved those rules Wednesday morning, on the two year anniversary of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act. That law mandated the FCC create new policies to address gaps in broadband access between races, ethnicities, income levels, and other demographic characteristics.

“In the 20th Century, we said that everyone should have access to electricity. It’s a necessity,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “Well, in the 21st Century, everybody needs affordable, high-speed internet.”

The agency adopted a “disparate impact” standard for its digital discrimination rules, meaning it will scrutinize practices that result in disparate broadband access for protected groups, regardless of whether that result was intended by providers.

Democratic leadership has been supportive of that interpretation of the agency’s mandate. The White House asked commissioners in October to favor a disparate impact standard over a “disparate intent” standard, which would only target business practices that are intentionally discriminatory.

In line with consistent lobbying in the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s vote, public interest groups have hailed the new rules as a step toward closing the digital divide, while industry groups – along with the commission’s two Republicans – have decried them as targeting routine business decisions.

Public Knowledge Senior Vice President Harold Feld commended the FCC for “taking yet another step toward closing the digital divide so that more people can benefit from broadband, a service essential for our modern lives.”

NCTA, the trade group representing cable companies, issued a statement Wednesday saying the rules will “distract the FCC from combatting true digital discrimination and will hurt our national effort to deliver high-speed internet to all Americans and continue to roll out innovative broadband services.”

The commission has said it will accept legitimate cost and technical barriers as defenses from companies accused of discriminatory deployments. The text of the adopted rules, which commissioners said would include updates from the public draft, has not yet been released.

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