Senate Republicans Issue Longshot Resolution to Block Digital Discrimination Rules

House Republicans made a similar move in January.

Senate Republicans Issue Longshot Resolution to Block Digital Discrimination Rules
Photo of Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, in 2020 by Gage Skidmore used with permission

WASHINGTON, March 14, 2024 – Nineteen Senate Republicans introduced on Thursday issued a resolution of disapproval to block the Federal Communications Commission’s digital discrimination rules.

Filed under the Congressional Review Act, such resolutions are a mechanism for Congress to nullify rules adopted by federal agencies. More than 60 Republicans in the House issued a similar resolution against the rules in January.

The moves stand little chance of becoming law, as it would ultimately require the support of two thirds of both the House and Senate or President Joe Biden’s signature. His administration pushed the FCC to adopt policies similar to the final rules during the rulemaking process. 

The commission was required by the Infrastructure Act to adopt rules preventing gaps in broadband access based on race, income, and other characteristics. Those rules, adopted in November and set to take effect March 22, take a “disparate impact” standard for identifying digital discrimination, meaning broadband providers could be in violation even if they are not intentionally withholding adequate internet from a protected group. 

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has said the rules will take “genuine barriers of technical and economic feasibility” into account, as mandated by the Infrastructure Act, but Republicans and industry groups have not been convinced.

“The only beneficiaries of the FCC’s Orwellian ‘equity’ plan are overzealous government regulators who want to control the internet. This resolution will roll back FCC Democrats’ unlawful power grab,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who led the group with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, in a statement.

Like the House resolution, some industry groups that lobbied the FCC against disparate impact rules supported Thursday’s effort. Those include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which went in January to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in an attempt to vacate the rules, and ACA Connects, which filed a similar suit in the D.C. Circuit.

The FCC’s Democratic commissioners have defended the rules as appropriate to the broad statutory mandate of ensuring equitable broadband access. 

“If we were to adopt rules that only covered discriminatory intent, we would fall short of fully meeting our legal obligation to facilitate equal access to broadband,” Rosenworcel said when announcing the rules.

Public interest groups like Public Knowledge and the NDIA also support the digital discrimination rules as a measure to bridge the digital divide – the gap between communities with access to high-speed internet and those without it.

The California State Assembly introduced legislation in February that would codify the digital discrimination rules into state law.

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