FCC not ruling out steps to expand broadband access, chair says at POLITICO Tech Summit

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The head of the Federal Communications Commission left the door open on Wednesday to taking further actions to ensure everyone has broadband access — including price regulation and combating “digital redlining.”

“We’re going to have to study every tool we have,” acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said in a one-on-one interview during POLITICO’s Tech Summit.

Rosenworcel said the agency is “laser-like focused on getting this service to everyone, everywhere,” and that it is trying to take a broader approach to the issue than the FCC had in the past.

Lawmakers of both parties have lamented the dearth of fast internet service in much of the country. The FCC has also faced criticism for the maps it uses to describe the prevalence of broadband service, which detractors say often wildly overstate its real-world availability.

The problem: Internet access has been a long-standing problem that was exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, as many families needed to rely on home internet service far more than they had in the past with the forced shift to virtual schooling or remote work.

It laid bare just how poor — or nonexistent — adequate broadband service is in much of the country, across both rural and urban areas and places that fall in between. For others the problem is having access to broadband that they can afford.

What’s happening: Rosenworcel said that’s something the FCC has been trying to address with the $3.2 billion subsidy program Congress authorized last year that offers up to $50 per month to help eligible households buy broadband service. She said approximately 5.5 million households are now benefiting from the temporary program.

“All of this demonstrates the demand for a broadband affordability program is real,” she said.

Rosenworcel said that there's also the need to combat "digital redlining," or the practice whereby internet providers invest more money in wealthier consumers or more profitable markets while offering lesser service to low-income consumers. That practice effectively exacerbates other existing inequalities between those groups.

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