Model Policies and Best Practices to Prevent Digital Discrimination by Broadband Internet Access Service Providers

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Digital Beat

Model Policies and Best Practices to Prevent Digital Discrimination by Broadband Internet Access Service Providers

The following is an edited excerpt from Recommendations and Best Practices to Prevent Digital Discrimination and Promote Digital Equity submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by the Working Groups of the Communications Equity and Diversity Council on November 7, 2022. In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the prevention and elimination of digital discrimination, the FCC proposed to adopt, as guidelines for states and localities, these model policies and best practices.

1. Develop, implement, and make publicly available periodic broadband equity assessments in partnership with broadband service providers, the community, and other local stakeholders.

State and local leaders should seek to identify the current broadband needs of their community to ensure equitable deployment of broadband services by providers and routinely assess the availability of broadband. The broadband equity assessment could consider what broadband service is currently available, who has reliable and consistent high-speed broadband service at home (e.g., via ongoing review of publicly available data and updating of broadband maps), and the cost needs of broadband services for their community. State and local leaders can use broadband equity assessment data to help identify unserved, underserved, and served areas and effectively direct funds and infrastructure towards areas that need the most support for the deployment of broadband services. Recognizing that timely and accurate data is necessary to produce a useful broadband equity assessment, States and localities should identify key data inputs and consider mechanisms to facilitate reporting by broadband providers.

Using broadband equity assessment data, State and local leaders should develop broadband action plans in a way that invites collaboration from relevant stakeholders—including broadband providers—to better assess and identify where deployment needs to occur, and better target districts and communities for which deployment is required. Such an approach will help ensure greater feedback by broadband providers and other interviewees and lead to more participation in addressing the needs identified in the assessment, including considering these needs in infrastructure build-out and upgrade of plans. Further, local broadband action plans, specifically, should include local assessments of broadband deployment efforts and where challenges still exist. This assessment would also include a review of digital adoption programs available in a local community and whether gaps exist to adequately meet the needs of communities.

In addition, broadband providers should partner with communities to assess the opportunity and challenges for providers to meet unmet needs. Broadband providers should make this assessment data publicly available which could help to prevent digital discrimination and ensure product and service delivery is not impacted or driven by such practices.

2. Facilitate greater awareness and information sharing among multi-dwelling unit owners regarding tenant choice and competition considering broadband service agreements.

States and localities should raise awareness of FCC rules regarding access to multiple tenant environments (MTEs) or multiple dwelling units (MDUs) [think apartment buildings and offices] and consider new ways to facilitate information sharing with MTE property owners can help inform their decision-making process when considering entering into agreements with broadband providers. The FCC has rules in place that prohibit cable and telecommunications providers from entering into exclusive property/building access agreements with landlords. However, these regulations may leave room for other types of deals that can lead to lack of choice, slower speeds, higher prices, and low-quality services for communities.

States and localities should consider laws or policies that are designed to eliminate these unintended consequences and ensure expanded access to MTEs. For example, some states—such as Illinois, New Jersey, and Nevada—require MTE owners to give competing providers access to their properties. Additionally, localities—like San Francisco, California—have adopted policies that discourage property owners from unreasonably interfering with residents’ ability to obtain service, which may be another tool to promote the availability and deployment of broadband to MTEs. States and localities should make efforts to ensure that property owners, cable providers, and broadband providers are aware of and comply with these new obligations.

3. Identify local opportunities that could be used to incentivize equitable deployment.

States and localities should—in collaboration with broadband providers, community organizations, consumer advocates, and others—identify and pursue opportunities to incentivize collaborative approaches to deployment. Leaders should examine as necessary, how state and local rules—such as dig once policies, permitting requirements, among other activities—can facilitate equitable broadband deployment.

4. Engage, where permissible under state and federal law, in the management of public property, such as public rights-of-way, to avert discriminatory behaviors that result in or sustain digital discrimination and redlining.

Agreements to use the rights-of-way should reflect that the privilege of using public assets comes with an obligation to provide a benefit to the public, which includes ensuring that all members of the community have equal access to broadband, subject to economic and technological feasibility. The appropriate public benefit(s) should be discussed by community organizations, consumer advocates, and others, and be determined by local governments based on the potential for digital discrimination in the community.

States should also consider whether statutes preempting or creating barriers to the deployment of broadband services or construction of broadband facilities by non-traditional providers such as electric service providers and municipalities are equally subjected to non-discrimination model policies and best practices. States should examine their statutes and policies to ensure broadband providers benefitting from public assets provide appropriate public benefits to address potential digital discrimination.

5. Convene regular meetings of broadband providers and other stakeholders, including community anchor institutions, public interest groups, community advocates, labor organizations, and faith-based institutions, to evaluate areas and households unserved or underserved with competitive and quality broadband options.

Local organizations—including community anchor institutions, public interest groups, community advocates, labor organizations, and faith-based institutions—can help states and localities evaluate areas and households that are unserved or underserved with competitive and quality broadband options, and work collaboratively to develop best practices and solutions for overcoming such barriers to equitable broadband deployment and adoption. State and local leaders should also seek to uncover and address areas experiencing digital redlining and strategies to prevent such discrimination.

6. Encourage fair competition and choice.

States and localities should continue to explore the role of competition and choice in not only accelerating consumer options but also as a commitment to more regular, seamless engagement with online resources that improve the quality of life for community members through activities such as online education, telehealth, civic engagement, employment, among other activities. Competition among broadband providers may lower costs for consumers and improve the quality of service by both new and incumbent providers.

Related Content

More Questions About Eliminating Digital Discrimination

Best Practices for States and Localities to Advance Digital Equity

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
Wilmette, IL 60091
headlines AT benton DOT org

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