By Paula Bernier
The Federal Communications Commission says it plans to create a committee aimed at improving diversity in the communications industry and eliminating inequality in the online arena. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans for the Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment yesterday.
“Every American should have the opportunity to participate in the communications marketplace, no matter their race, gender, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation,” Pai said in a press release.
The press release went on to explain that the committee will work on “providing recommendations to the FCC on empowering all Americans.” For example, it said, the committee and FCC may help establish an incubator program and/or identify ways to prevent digital redlining.
That was the extent of the details the FCC and Pai provided on the committee. It’s unclear at the moment who will be on the committee, when it will start work, and what will be its first deliverables.
This committee effort contrasts with other recent developments related to redlining, some of which Pai has supported.
For example, the federal government recently passed legislation to allow ISPs and mobile broadband providers to collect, sell, and share consumer app usage history, web browsing history, and other private information with the approval of those consumers. Pai, a long-time proponent of this idea, voiced his support for the legislation.
This new legislation is helpful to the advertising and broadband service provider industries. But it eliminates consumer privacy protections and can even open the door to more predatory marketing that hurts minorities, according to some sources.
“The data that big corporations collect from Black broadband users leads to predatory marketing, which starts at a young age and lasts throughout our lives,” said racial justice group Color of Change. “Without the crucial FCC regulations implemented last year, Black and marginalized communities will continue to experience online price gouging, data discrimination, and digital redlining.”
Speaking of redlining, a group called Connect Your Community and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance last month charged AT&T with systematically discriminating against lower-income Cleveland neighborhoods in the way it had deployed home internet and video technology over the past decade.
“Our analysis, based on newly released FCC Form 477 Census block data for June 2016, provides clear evidence that AT&T has withheld fiber-enhanced broadband improvements from most Cleveland neighborhoods with high poverty rates…,” the NDIA announcement said. “This analysis is part of a six-month effort that began when CYC and NDIA learned that residents of many Cleveland neighborhoods were being declared ineligible for AT&T’s ‘Access’ discount rate program, solely because they couldn't get AT&T connections at the 3 mbps download speed that was then the program’s minimum requirement.”
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