Local elected officials and some community organizations from across the country have written to acting FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel asking the FCC to investigate digital "redlining" as well as to restore the Title II classification of internet access service, suggesting both will help close the racial justice divide.
The first is doable, but while they definitely have a willing ear in Rosenworcel on both issues, the latter will have to wait until President Joe Biden names a third Democrat to the FCC since it is currently at a 2-2 political tie, with the Democrats all for the return of Title II and the Republicans all against it, as it were.
On the digital equity front, Rosenworcel has strong support from fellow Democrat Geoffrey Starks. At the State of the Net Conference in January, he said that the digital divide has morphed during COVID-19 to a monstrous divide that leaves people of color disproportionately on the wrong side. "This cannot stand," he said, adding that the country can no longer put off the hard work of digital equity. "This is the time. This is the moment."
The letter Tuesday (March 16), from 98 councilmembers, board members, supervisors and others from Maryland to California, Florida to Maine, asked Rosenworcel to create a commission focused on ending digital 'redlining,' the exclusion of low income and communities of color from access to the digital connectivity and tools that are the current currency of daily life, particularly in a pandemic.
They also called on her to "act quickly" to reinstate the Title II authority under which the FCC could restore net neutrality rules against blocking, throttling, paid prioritization, and other things proponents for strong rules say could hurt internet access.
"In line with President Biden’s commitment to equity, we believe that internet access is a racial justice issue," they told Rosenworcel.
The legislators, who almost certainly were mostly, if not all, Democrats, said that large ISPs have profited from the pandemic and preyed on the vulnerable, citing as an example the introduction of data caps by Comcast, calling it a regressive tax on the poor and communities of color.
They called for a prohibition on data caps altogether and said that restoring open internet rules would result in equitable learning opportunities and access. "[M]ore oversight through hearings on digital redlining, coupled with net neutrality protections, will ensure that communities like ours will have the freedom to thrive," they said.
Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.
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