FCC Denies Further Extension of Net Neutrality Comment Deadline

The FCC has denied a request by the cities of New York and Los Angeles and others for a further extension of the comment deadlines for the court remand of parts of the FCC's Restoring Internet Freedom order deregulating ISPs. 

The initial comment deadlines were March 30 and April 29, but the FCC extended those to April 20 and May 29. 

Related: FCC Extends Net Neutrality Comment Deadline

The cities and the Santa Clara County Central Fire Protection District had sought an additional 60 day extension, pointing out that they were fighting a pandemic. 

But the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau Monday (April 20), denied the extension, meaning initial comments are still due by end of day Monday. 

It suggested the pandemic has been going on long enough that if they wanted another extension, they should have asked for it sooner. 

"The COVID-19 crisis has spurred nonstop news coverage for at least the past month over the likely duration and extent of the pandemic," the bureau said. "[F]ederal guidelines extending national social distancing recommendations until April 30, for example, were publicly made available on March 31. It is not plausible that Requestors first became aware of their purported need for additional time less than seven days before the deadline for initial comments on April 20. It would be unfair at this late date to extend the comment deadline when other commenters (including, presumably, other states and localities) have been preparing to submit timely filings."

It also pointed out the initial extension and suggested that should have been more than enough time, saying that some of those that sought the initial extension did not join in the request for a second one. 

It also said given that there were public interest implications to the comments, it did not believe delaying the resolution of the issue was in the public interest. 

"The denial of this extension request is shameful," said Benton Senior Counselor Andrew Jay Schwartzman. "Chairman Pai and the FCC staff don’t think that the pandemic is enough of an emergency to provide more time for first responders to file comments about how the Commission can ensure that first responders can serve the public in emergencies like pandemics.   

"This decision is as inexplicable as the FCC’s prior failure in 2017 even to consider the needs of public safety in holding that broadband is not a 'telecommunications service' under Title II of the Communications Act. There is a reason that the Court of Appeals told the Commission to address that obligation, and today’s action likely will not be viewed favorably at such time as it goes back to the Court."

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) called the decision offensive and called on the FCC to rethink it.

“When the Trump FCC repealed net neutrality two years ago, it completely ignored public safety. Santa Clara County firefighters paid a steep price when Verizon throttled their data speeds as they fought the worst fire in California’s history, and the County was helpless to resolve the issue. The County sued the FCC and the D.C. Circuit Court required the FCC to revisit its net neutrality repeal to account for public safety. 

“Now, when these same first responders of the Santa Clara County Fire Department are requesting a very reasonable extension to file their comments in the FCC’s order because they are on the front lines in responding to the worst pandemic of our lifetimes, Chairman Pai has ignored their pleas. The FCC’s decision is shameful, offensive, and dangerous. The FCC must rethink this decision immediately.” 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.