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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is moving toward officially reinstating broadband service as a “telecommunications service,” giving the FCC increased authority over internet service providers (ISPs). 

Utilizing Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 (yes, 1934!), FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel is leading the push to classify broadband internet as a means of communication or “telecommunications” rather than its current classification as an “information service.” Title II is often equated with net neutrality, but it could actually have a larger impact on broadband access and use. 

Much has changed since ISPs were last classified as telecommunications carriers, meaning we really don’t know how the reclassification could impact digital inclusion work. 

Title II Telecommunications Services

Under Title II, the FCC regulates “telecommunications services,” which originally referred only to phone networks. This designation was to ensure reasonable pricing and non-discriminatory practices. 

Because this change means increased regulation for broadband services, ISPs tend to object to this change, as did the previous FCC, led by Ajit Pai. However, we think this reclassification accurately reflects the role of broadband. It may also allow the FCC to better protect consumer interests in relation to internet access and use, which is essential to digital equity. 

The FCC issued a draft of its Notice of Public Rule Making (NPRM) on “Safeguarding and Securing the Open Internet,” asking for comments. They will vote on the NPRM October 19, where we expect they will define internet service as “essential,” which would be a great step forward for digital inclusion. 

What will this mean for digital equity advocates and practitioners? NDIA suspects this designation could impact the digital discrimination proceedings, data ISPs are required to share, and the Universal Service Fund. 

NDIA looks forward to open dialogue on how this reclassification could further ISP accountability while expanding equitable broadband access for communities in need.

If the Commission approves the NPRM at their open meeting on October 19, the proposed comment deadline will be December 14, and the proposed reply comment deadline will be January 17, 2024.