Neutrality Reporting Waiver Restored for Small ISPs After Fractious FCC Vote

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On two out of three telecom items FCC Commissioners voted on yesterday, things went smoothly, but the item to roll back reporting requirements for small internet service providers as part of Net Neutrality regulations sparked controversy. Two of the three Commissioners, Chairman Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly, approved granting a five-year waiver of enhanced reporting requirements to ISPs with 250,000 or fewer connections.

The exemption expired in December, Inside Towers reported, and wireless trade associations including the Competitive Carriers Association, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association and their members urged the agency to reinstate it, calling the requirements “onerous” and “burdensome.”

Compliance burdens on small IPSs are especially high because of their limited resources, according to Pai and O’Rielly. O’Rielly called the exemption “sound and justifiable” even though he supported an even lower threshold. “These ISPs should spend their limited capital” on building out their rural broadband networks, “not on hiring lawyers in D.C.” to fill out the paperwork, said Pai.  

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, now the lone Democrat, blasted the item and dissented from her GOP colleagues, saying it lets “billion dollar companies” avoid transparency. “We should not stand silent,” she said, adding that what was voted on was “vastly different” than what had been proposed during the previous administration. “The order doubles down by allowing the biggest providers to exempt their subsidiaries. The order runs roughshod over past precedent with no discussion as to why the Commission is changing its mind.”

O’Rielly said the result was a compromise and he would have supported a lower threshold.

At least one Congressional Democrat opposed the change. Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts stated that by “granting this carve out for the broadband industry, the FCC has made pricing and performance information less accessible to small businesses and consumers. Consumers deserve truth in pricing information.”

The vote could signal a sign of things to come. O’Rielly said the agency may look at getting rid of the reporting requirements altogether.

February 24, 2017

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