FCC gives small ISPs a pass on open internet rules

Local broadband carriers let off regulation

The FCC has extended a rule that will exempt small broadband carriers from portions of its 2015 Open Internet rules.

US internet service providers who have less than 100,000 total connections will not be required to provide the detailed transparency reports mandated by the FCC rules. The reports include detailed information for the public on promotional discounts, surcharges and fees, and data caps placed on users.

According to the FCC, the exemption clause is designed to lessen the burden smaller regional carriers would face were they tasked with providing regular transparency reports to the public and the FCC.

The Commission notes in its decision that though it believes customers of smaller carriers should have equal rights to view carrier policies, it has yet to determine how the transparency requirements can be applied to small companies without racking up more costs.

Also at issue is an ongoing investigation as to whether extending the transparency requirement to smaller carriers would violate the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995. The FCC said it hopes that investigation will wrap up by next year.

The exemption will run until December 15, 2016, when the FCC will have to decide whether to further extend the exemption, abolish it, or make it permanent.

The FCC's commissioners largely agreed on the decision to extend the exemption, though for different reasons. Commissioner Mignon Clyburn cited the financial concerns of requiring small businesses to maintain and file the additional reports.

"Increased transparency is always beneficial and we have a duty to ensure that the benefits outweigh the burdens, particularly for our small businesses," she said.

Fellow commissioner Michael O'Rielly, meanwhile, made known that he feels a permanent exception for small businesses should have already been passed.

"Setting aside the Commission's flawed and harmful net neutrality decision, temporarily extending the small broadband provider exemption is a monumental mistake in judgement and a missed opportunity to restore a bit of credibility and rationality," O'Rielly said.

"We all know that smaller providers never had the imaginary market power envisioned by the Commission, and they shouldn't have to comply now or in the future with burdensome requirements that divert limited resources from broadband deployment and provide no real value to consumers." ®

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