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The FCC must end digital redlining

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May 16, 2022
4 minute read
Advocacy • NTEN Advocacy

We knew that the internet was a critical tool for everyone long before the global COVID–19 pandemic. But the last two years have proven over and over again how necessary internet access, accessible devices, and digital skills are for our organizations so we can work remotely, deliver programs in changing environments, and communicate with staff and constituents, as well as for individuals and families to access school, communicate with doctors, access services, and stay connected to friends and relatives. One of NTEN's core beliefs is that the internet is a powerful and necessary tool and it is vital that it is affordable and accessible to all people.

In 2020, NTEN joined with a coalition of other organizations to sign a joint letter calling for a ban on digital redlining. Internet Service Providers "have decided to invest fiber optic infrastructure in wealthy neighborhoods in large densely populated cities while skipping low-income neighborhoods in those same cities. The result of this digital redlining is the formation of a 1st class and 2nd class broadband infrastructure where wealthy communities easily access 21st century opportunities with low-cost, fast Internet while everyone else is left behind."

Since then, Congress enacted a digital discrimination rulemaking proceeding for the FCC to implement and in February 2022, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced the formation of the Task Force to Prevent Digital Discrimination, a "cross-agency task force that will focus on creating rules and policies to combat digital discrimination and to promote equal access to broadband across the country, regardless of zip code, income level, ethnicity, race, religion, or national origin." The FCC approved a Notice of Inquiry, the first step in the full process which must be completed by November 2023 as directed by Congress in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

NTEN joined EFF, the Center for Accessible Technology, and 36 other organizations committed to an equitable and accessible internet to file joint comments. Here is a summary of the filed statement:

  • The filing asserts that the Commission should begin defining “digital discrimination” as the discriminatory infrastructure deployment choices made based on socio-economic status. Highlights how the deployment of fiber optic infrastructure plays a key role in the ongoing discrimination where high-income users are receiving 21st century ready multi-gigabit access and low-income users are left with legacy infrastructure built in decades past.
  • A history of redlining and its implications on this proceeding is provided in order to educate the Commission as to the nature of how many low-income neighborhoods stem from past discrimination that government action has historically been relied on to remedy. Adding broadband to our non-discrimination policies should build on those efforts.
  • Allowing for the continuation of discriminatory deployment of broadband infrastructure will perpetuate the past harms of historical discrimination.
  • Addressing discrimination in infrastructure deployment will be beneficial to the US economy and yield significant economic benefits towards low-income users.
  • Low-income communities, particularly in urban markets, are in fact profitable to serve with the appropriate expectations of return on investment.
  • Continuous growth in broadband demand must be included in the FCC’s analysis to avoid a ‘Separate But Equal’ outcome in infrastructure access.
  • Cable companies (i.e. Comcast) and telephone companies (i.e. AT&T) engage in discrimination in different ways that the FCC must take into account in its analysis. Furthermore, the FCC should continue the presumption it utilizes in its competition analysis that wireless and wireline are not interchangeable as substitutes.
  • The FCC should produce its own study to add to the existing literature already created by the NDIA/CWA, USC, and Greenlining Institute studies.

We will continue advocating for and standing together with others to fight for an internet that is affordable, accessible, and safe for all.




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