FCC rule against broadband digital discrimination goes into effect

  • The FCC’s exhaustive rules to prevent broadband redlining and discrimination have gone into effect

  • The agency will set up a portal for people to submit claims about discrimination

  • Predictably, the telecom industry is not thrilled with any of this

The 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law required the FCC to adopt rules to prevent and eliminate digital discrimination in regard to access to broadband, and those rules went into effect on March 22.

According to the FCC, the rules will “help to ameliorate a digital divide that has underpinnings in the country's historical segregation and redlining practices in housing.”

The six characteristics of digital discrimination of broadband access, which providers need to avoid are: income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion and national origin.

The FCC is setting up a dedicated online portal for digital discrimination complaints and will be collecting voluntary demographic information from filers who submit a complaint.  

As to whom is required to follow the new rules, it’s any organization that provides a mass-market retail broadband service by wire or radio. And the organization can use a variety of technologies, including DSL, cable modem, fiber, fixed and mobile wireless and satellite.

The rules cover broadband providers as well as their contractors and partners. The definition of “broadband consumer” includes current subscribers as well as prospective subscribers. This is an important distinction because it’s potentially the unserved prospective subscribers who are being discriminated against.

Finally, broadband pricing is included within the scope of the rules, and the FCC said this is important because pricing is often the most important term that consumers consider when purchasing broadband.

But the FCC wrote, “We emphasize that the rules we adopt today do not set rates for broadband internet access service and are not an attempt to institute rate regulation.”

However, the FCC says it has the means to make sure that there is price consistency and that prices are reasonably comparable to other areas and groups of consumers.

The FCC says it will use the “full gamut” of its enforcement toolkit to make sure broadband providers do not discriminate. Those tools range from letters of inquiry, to investigations, to remedial orders to forfeitures.

A follow-up rule sets out obligations for broadband providers to submit annual reports regarding their recently completed broadband projects and internal compliance programs in regard to the demographics of communities they serve.

The comment period for this follow-up rule concludes on April 1, 2024.


Predictably, service providers are not thrilled with any of this. (And who does really like to follow more rules?) Many industry stakeholders and trade groups expressed their displeasure when the FCC introduced the rule for comment in November 2023. And many more made comments leading up to the FCC’s final rule.

In addition, in 2024 resolutions have been put forth in both the House of Representatives and the Senate to nullify the FCC’s digital equity rule.