FCC to Vote on New Complaint Procedures Targeting Digital Discrimination

FCC to Vote on New Complaint Procedures Targeting Digital Discrimination; Seeks Comment on Imposing Burdensome Reporting Requirements 

At the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) monthly open meeting on Wednesday, the agency will vote on a Report and Order (Order) and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) that will address digital discrimination. More specifically, the Order and FNPRM, currently released in draft format, targets broadband service providers, aiming to curb digital discrimination by preventing unequal provision of services based on income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin.

The Order, if adopted, establishes a framework under which the FCC will look at conduct that either has a discriminatory intent or discriminatory effect. Determinations as to whether digital discrimination is occurring will be through self-initiated FCC investigations and by consumers through the FCC’s informal complaint process. These new complaint procedures will no doubt require vigilance — as the Order establishes a “dedicated pathway” for consumers to file complaints against broadband providers alleging digital discrimination of access and a process for third-party organizations to file complaints on behalf of groups of individuals. The Order also establishes an enforcement mechanism if the FCC finds that a broadband provider has a policy or practice that violates its prohibition on digital discrimination of access.

In the related FNPRM, the FCC is proposing new annual reporting obligations that could be quite burdensome. For example, according to the “Fact Sheet” attached to the draft FNRPM, one proposed rule would require filing an annual report that describes “major deployment, upgrade, and maintenance projects completed or substantially completed in the preceding calendar year,” while another proposes that providers maintain an internal compliance program “to ensure that the provider regularly assesses whether and how its policies and practices advance or impede equal access to broadband internet service in its service areas.”

JSI has observed that numerous parties have conduced ex parte meetings on the draft Order and FNPRM and will continue to monitor this proceeding. We will provide a more detailed analysis after Wednesday’s vote and the final text is released, as well as recommendations for filing comments opposing the proposed reporting requirements and how JSI can assist in filing such comments. In the meantime, please contact Christopher Canter with any questions regarding the Order and FNPRM or if your company would like our assistance with compliance requirements or in filing comments.