WASHINGTON - October 29 - A
coalition of national civil rights, privacy and consumer organizations
is calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to move
expeditiously to achieve several key goals of the National Broadband
In a letter to FCC Commissioners delivered today, the coalition urged the FCC to focus on the importance of achieving four key objectives:
· Expansion of the Universal Service Fund to broadband;
· Assurance of transparency and truth in billing;
· Protection of consumers’ privacy online; and
· Internet accessibility for those with disabilities.
light of questions raised in the context of net neutrality and the FCC’s
authority over broadband, the coalition said the FCC should “adopt a
legally justifiable regulatory framework to enact the broadband plan.”
of how organizations view net neutrality, the Commission’s authority to
achieve many objectives critical to the civil rights community must be
affirmed,” the coalition said.
letter was sent by the American Association of People with Disabilities,
the American Civil Liberties Union, the Asian American Justice Center,
the Benton Foundation, Communications Workers of America, Consumer
Action, Consumer Watchdog, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human
Rights, the NAACP, the National Consumers League, the National
Organization for Women, the National Urban League, Privacy
International, Privacy Lives, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Privacy
Times and the United Church of Christ, Office of Communication, Inc.
The full text of the letter is below:
October 29, 2010
Julius Genachowski, Chairman
Federal Communication Commission
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554
National Broadband Plan, GN Docket No. 09-51, Framework for Broadband
Internet Service, GN Docket No. 10-127, Federal-State Joint Board on
Universal Service, CC Docket No. 96-45, Lifeline and Link-Up, WC Docket
Dear Chairman Genachowski and Members of the Commission:
undersigned write today to support several key goals that the Federal
Communications Commission has laid out as part of its National Broadband
Plan and urge the Commission to take the regulatory actions necessary
to achieve those goals. Specifically, because of the DC Circuit decision
in Comcast vs. FCC, there are now questions regarding Commission’s authority to implement these goals.
While legislation might be one route to achieving this objective, we
urge the Commission to move forward expeditiously to adopt a legally
justifiable regulatory framework to enact the broadband plan.
writing this letter now because the importance of moving forward on key
civil rights objectives of the national broadband plan has been lost in
the context of the debate on net neutrality. Regardless of how
organizations view net neutrality, the Commission’s authority to achieve
many objectives critical to the civil rights community must be
affirmed. These objectives include expansion of the Universal Service
Fund to broadband, assurance of transparency and truth in billing,
protection of consumers’ privacy online, and internet accessibility for
those with disabilities. Because the Comcast decision makes the
Commission’s authority to undertake these critical elements of the Plan
subject to clarification, it is incumbent on the Commission to have a
comprehensive framework on which to move forward to implement its stated
Expanding Universal Service
According to the National Broadband Plan it is critical to:
Expand the Lifeline and Link-Up programs by allowing subsidies provided to low-income Americans to be used for broadband.
66% of Americans nationwide have broadband access. Yet a study by the
Pew Internet & American Life Project shows that only 50% of rural
residents, 56% of African Americans and 45% of households earning less
than $30,000 have broadband in the home.
The FCC’s Broadband study found that 39% of all Americans without broadband have some type of disability.
This clearly shows that urgent action is needed to ensure that underserved communities have equal access to broadband.
Expanding the Universal Service Fund (USF) to broadband and in particular, expanding Lifeline and Linkup
programs to broadband is the way to ensure that this is achieved. This
is especially relevant to underserved urban communities who only have
access to Lifeline and Linkup services while others such as rural
communities have access to the more expansive High Cost Program.
The USF was created at a time when communication was largely limited to
voice telephony services. Since then, broadband has become vital for
tasks including applying for a job, applying for small business
contracts and claiming government benefits such as food stamps – in
fact, broadband is the enabler of progress across a range of fields. All
of this helps to level the playing field for minority owned businesses
and assure a diverse and prepared workforce.
has produced significant results in voice telephony – since 1985, when
the Commission first established Lifeline to help low-income households
afford the monthly cost of telephone service, penetration rates among
low-income households have grown from 80.0% to 90.4%
We strongly urge the Commission to continue this success of the USF by
expanding it to broadband so that underserved communities have the tools
to empower themselves.
Transparency and Truth in Billing
Additionally the Plan seeks to:
Develop disclosure requirements for broadband service providers to
ensure consumers have the pricing and performance information they need
to choose the best broadband offers in the market. Increased
transparency will incent service providers to compete for customers on
the basis ofactual performance.
have a right to a clear and accurate account of the broadband services
they purchase. Currently it is extremely difficult for individuals to
compare the connection speed and price of competing plans because
advertisers bill speed as “up to” instead of disclosing an accurate
average connection speed. As the Commission has recognized, advertised
broadband speeds are dramatically different than those the consumer
actually receives and, in fact, “actual download speeds experienced by
U.S. consumers lag advertised speeds by roughly 50%”.
is a fundamental protection – consumers are quite literally not getting
what they are paying for. The Commission must be able to set standards
for disclosing actual speeds as well as include “simple
clear data that a ‘reasonable consumer’ can understand” and more
detailed information for “tech-savvy customers, software developers and
entrepreneurs” as called for in the plan.
the Commission must be able to move ahead on its “bill shock”
proceeding, which aims to protect consumers from unexpected and
unaffordable charges on their telecommunications bills.
Another goal of the broadband plan is to:
the relationship between users and their online profiles to enable
continued innovation and competition in applications and ensure consumer
privacy, including the
obligations of firms collecting personal information to allow consumers
to know what information is being collected, consent to such collection,
correct it if necessary, and control disclosure of such personal
information to third parties.”
internet use and broadband capacity has allowed private companies to
collect vast amounts of data on users – information that is being used
to create detailed profiles of their movements, interests and activities
harms consumers by invading their privacy and curbs innovation and
adoption of new technologies by making consumers hesitant to use them.
In order to address consumer fears, the Plan calls on Congress, the
Federal Trade Commission, and the FCC to improve the relationship
between users and the entities that create these online profiles. In
order for the FCC to meet its obligations, it requires the legal
authority to enact privacy protections for broadband service under
Section 222. Without that authority the Commission will be unable to
quell invasive practices like deep packet inspection. If such
routine privacy invasions are permitted to take place, the value of
Internet communications will decrease as a social good, contrary to the
mission of the FCC and our national interest.
Increasing Adoption Rates for People with Disabilities
Finally the Plan recognizes that:
important and cross-cutting issue is accessibility for people with
disabilities. Some 39% of all non-adopters have a disability, much
higher than the 24% of overall survey respondents who have a disability.
access can be invaluable in helping individuals with disabilities live
independently while staying connected with people around them. It
enables telecommuting, distance learning, cutting edge access to medical
and health applications through telemedicine and telerehabilitation,
and the capacity to fully participate in American life. In fact, it is
quickly becoming as essential as assistive technology. The Plan
acknowledges the barriers faced by these individuals and has called upon
the FCC and the Department of Justice to modernize
accessibility laws, rules and related subsidy programs to ensure
broadband access. As we move into the digital age,
the Commission must ensure it uses all its legal authority – including
the provision in the recently enacted “21st Century
Communications & Video Accessibility Act of 2010” – to ensure that
people with disabilities are not left behind and will also share in the
benefits of broadband access.
National Broadband Plan states, “like electricity a century ago,
broadband is a foundation for economic growth, job creation, global
competitiveness and a better way of life.”
It is impossible to meet any of the critical goals described above or
any of the Plan’s broader goals without the re-establishment of clear
FCC authority to regulate in these critical areas.
American Association of People with Disabilities
American Civil Liberties Union
Asian American Justice Center
Communications Workers of America
Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
National Consumers League
National Organization for Women
National Urban League
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
United Church of Christ, Office of Communication, Inc.