he Federal Communications Commission is poised to assert itself as the Ministry of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. This week, the unelected bureaucrats at the agency will vote on rules to shoehorn the latest woke ideology about race and identity into the internet ecosystem. If you like what leftists have done to public education, then you will love this endeavor. It punishes innovation and hinders opportunities to access the internet — all in the name of equity. The new rules proposed by the FCC will hinder internet industry leaders from developing and deploying new technologies that could transform internet access.
A House Judiciary Committee report published on Monday revealed examples of internet censorship by the federal government, including the Biden Administration.
“We see [the Biden Administration trying to exercise control of the internet] from the social media side, where there was just new evidence released by [House Judiciary Committee] Chairman Jim Jordan that showed the collusion between the government and social media to censor individual Americans that were simply exercising their free speech rights.”
Moreover, the FCC is also pushing to restore net neutrality, making a significant move toward reestablishing it in October by voting in favor of a notice of proposed rulemaking. Net neutrality rules force ISPs to provide equal access to all websites and content providers at the same costs and speeds, regardless of size or content.
Cato Institute Technology Policy Research Fellow Jennifer Huddleston:
“We have seen several recent actions that shift from a light touch, free market approach to a more regulatory and precautionary approach including the revival of ‘net neutrality’ … and presumptions that AI should be regulated by the government in a top-down approach. These actions are concerning as the light touch approach the U.S. has traditionally taken has benefited consumers by allowing entrepreneurs and innovators to enter the market with minimal government intervention or barriers.”
Biden recently signed the first ever AI executive order at the end of October and it is sweeping, covering areas such as safety, security, privacy, innovation and “advancing equity,” according to its fact sheet.
As part of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed in 2021, Congress delegated the FCC the power to “take steps to ensure that all people of the United States benefit from equal access to broadband internet access within the service area of a provider of such service.” While the endeavor to promote equality is noble, the agency has found “little to no evidence” of intentional discrimination. It fails to give any examples of digital discrimination where people and communities are systematically unserved based on their “income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion or national origin.”
The ‘Disparate Impact’ Dragnet
Leftists at the FCC have decided to use this opportunity to deliberately misread the statute and force equity into the internet ecosystem. The order considers covering a host of services, including “discounts, language options, credit checks, marketing and advertising.” I have no idea what this means. Will the FCC investigate whether or not broadband companies are following Disney’s approach to casting?
The agency drafted rules that extend far beyond legislative intent. The regulators have created a regime that will punish any entity working to expand internet access or deliver internet services if the agency deems it did so in a way that enables discrimination. Central to the agency’s rules is the “disparate impact” standard.
As the team at the International Center for Law and Economics explains, “disparate-impact analysis might find that low-income households have lower rates of internet adoption, and infer this was due to discrimination.” Basically, any perceived ill that has connections to large socio-economic questions will be caught in this digital discrimination dragnet.
Unjust Until Proven Equitable
Instead of carefully crafting a framework that identifies bad actors, describes their discriminatory actions, and outlines solutions to them, the FCC just assumes everyone is guilty. The regulators will treat any entity that tries to build up the next generation of internet access as purveyors of systemic injustice. The agency’s order does not give tangible examples of violations but operates under the premise that it should punish all broadband internet companies.
The regime applies to every company in the broadband internet space. It even applies to the small business contractors who build and maintain the infrastructure. These operators and technicians simply build where governments have permitted them to construct cell towers or lay fiber. But if the FCC deems that their work promotes discrimination, then bureaucrats will investigate and punish the workers on the frontlines.
This bureaucracy will hamstring the entire internet ecosystem. The rules will hinder industry leaders from developing and deploying new technologies that could transform internet access. Companies might fear that the FCC will interpret their best efforts as discrimination if all communities do not have an “equitable” opportunity to adopt the innovations.
Broadband Access Quotas
The order also establishes essentially a quota system for broadband access. If any ethnicity, religion, or identity fails to adopt broadband — at an arbitrary level established by the FCC — then the agency’s enforcement arm can come down hard on the “offending” partner.
For example, in Pennsylvania, the population of Amish residents in Lancaster County is more than 39,000. As we learned from last month’s emergency alert test, there are quite a few Amish individuals who enjoy digital connectivity. If the FCC does not think enough Amish people subscribe to cell phone plans or use Wi-Fi in their barns, then the agency has granted itself the authority to investigate the supposed shortcoming as a violation of the digital discrimination order. Think of the absurdity: The FCC could actually punish a provider for not selling cellphones to enough Amish people. With this new regime, it is clear there are no limits to what the FCC will consider a breach.
Promoting Internet Innovation
“These latest moves shift the balance between governmental oversight and individual freedoms heavily toward the government,” Internet Accountability Project Founder and President Mike Davis said:
“Excessive government control from the Biden administration would curtail the very essence of a free and open digital environment, compromising privacy rights and growing the alliance between Big Tech and the federal government.”
For instance, the Biden Administration has called upon the Democrat-controlled FCC to implement new rules designed to tackle “digital discrimination,” a move that experts argue would drastically broaden the commission’s regulatory authority. The primary focus of the rules, which the commission will vote on on Nov. 15, is to combat “digital discrimination of access” to broadband internet, as expressed in section 60506 of Biden’s 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
“Biden’s plan would be an unprecedented expansion of regulatory power that grants broad authority to the administrative state over internet services,” Heritage Foundation Tech Policy Center Research Associate Jake Denton said. “This plan empowers regulators to shape nearly all aspects of how ISPs [internet service providers] operate, including how they allocate and spend their capital, where they build new broadband infrastructure projects, and what types of offerings are made available to consumers.”
If enacted, these centralized planning measures could profoundly transform the digital experiences of consumers — a troubling prospect that should worry all Americans about what the future of the internet could look like in this country.
Furthermore, the Biden Administration asked the Supreme Court to halt an order that blocked it from engaging in social media censorship after an appeals court partially affirmed it in September. The Supreme Court granted a pause on the injunction in October, but also agreed to consider Missouri v. Biden, a free speech case challenging the administration’s endeavors to suppress social media content, according to a court order.
“President Biden’s pronounced efforts to extend government control over the expansive tech landscape point toward an unprecedented level of government intervention in Americans’ digital lives and basic freedoms,” Davis continued.
“Consolidation of power over the tech space within the government, working in tandem with its corporate allies in Big Tech, will stifle innovation, freedom of speech, and freedom of association. Diversity of ideas and technological advancements will suffer.”
Instead of an arbitrary and undefined regime, the FCC would better serve the nation by establishing a framework that encourages cities and municipalities to promote the deployment of next-generation internet access. Too many communities, such as New York City, are dragging their feet. Others, like San Jose are delaying deployment by charging internet providers exorbitant fees to build out these transformative networks.
It is clear the FCC’s rules are not concerned with improving internet access and upward mobility. Instead, they’re intended to dramatically expand the federal government’s power. There are real challenges to closing the digital divide, but the new order will not help that effort.
Now is the time to empower creators and innovators who are bringing new ideas to life. The FCC should work to promote new opportunities and technologies that will enable upward mobility rather than create a regime that punishes entrepreneurs who dare to take chances. ✪