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FCC CEDC Needs More Time on Digital Discrimination Recommendations

The FCC's Communications Equity and Diversity Council needs more time to draft model policies for localities to prevent digital discrimination, the group said at its meeting Friday, which had been expected to include a vote on final recommendations for the agency (see 2202230065.

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The council instead voted to adopt two of the expected three sets of recommendations and “hold” them until the third is complete. Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel tasked the group with the digital discrimination work in February after the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and the CEDC said then it was an “urgent request.” Rosenworcel said Friday she understands the group is going to need “a little more time to come even closer” to a consensus. “ The committee "accepted the Chairwoman’s extension of our work” in “pursuit of a more perfect document,” said CEDC Chair Heather Gate of Connected Nation.

It’s not clear when the CEDC will complete its report. The vote delay was announced Friday morning via a last-minute agenda revision, and the FCC declined to comment Friday on when the CEDC’s final recommendations are now expected. The CEDC didn’t respond to our question about timing. The FCC also declined to comment on whether the delayed recommendations would affect the timing of FCC action on the digital discrimination proceeding. Comment periods on the FCC’s digital discrimination notice of inquiry closed last month. Neither the CEDC nor the FCC specified a date for CEDC’s next meeting.

The missing set of recommendations concerned “Model Policies and Best Practices to Prevent Digital Discrimination” and were to be the product of the CEDC’s Digital Empowerment and Inclusion (DEI) Working Group, headed by Dominique Harrison, Citi director-Ventures Innovation's Racial Equity Design and Data Initiative. “Our charge is not an easy task,” Harrison told the committee. “There’s no path for developing model policies to prevent digital discrimination without some bumps along the way,” Rosenworcel said.

Harrison and several other CEDC members declined to comment on the reasons for the delay, but statements about the need to reach consensus and the difficulty of deliberations by Gate, Rosenworcel and CEDC Vice Chair Nicol Turner-Lee of the Brookings Institution suggest the working group might not have reached a final agreement on the recommendations. The DEI group has representatives from Comcast, WISPA, Verizon, the National Urban League, the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council, the Communications Workers of America and AT&T, among others.

The recommendations the CEDC unanimously approved concerned the definition of digital discrimination and inclusive practices in IIJA contracting and grants. The recommendations are meant to encompass “every possible opportunity throughout the ecosystem” of contracting, from hands-on infrastructure jobs to “softer” roles such as workforce training, said CEDC member and Wiley attorney Anna Gomez, who formerly chaired the body.

The council voted to recommend a goal of no less than 30% participation by small and minority- or women-owned businesses in state and local infrastructure grants and contracts, create an annual plan to increase supplier diversity, and designate a governmentwide office on supplier diversity. The FCC should adopt such best practices and forward them to NTIA to use in review of state plans, Gomez said.

On the definition of digital discrimination, the CEDC voted to recommend the FCC pursue an “expansive” definition of digital discrimination and the marginalized communities that can be affected by it, said CEDC member Randi Parker, Creating IT Futures senior director-partnership engagement. “There were some groups that were not being included” in more narrow definitions, she said. The CEDC also voted to recommend the FCC expand the definition of digital discrimination to comply with the Communications Act of 1934, which contains language against discrimination by communications services. The agency needs to “recognize that not all marginalized communities are able to access digital tools in the same way,” said CEDC member Christopher Wood, of LGBT Tech.