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FCC Republicans Oppose Action in Enhanced Transparency ‘Gap’

The FCC Republicans have assured American Cable Association president Matt Polka and other association heads that they have been working hard to get the enhanced transparency waiver extension approved and would not support any adverse FCC action against any operator not in compliance as of the Jan. 17 date on which the enhanced transparency rules take effect.

The FCC small business waiver from those rules expired last week and compliance officers are wondering what they will have to do and when.

When the Republicans get the majority three days later, on Jan. 20, they are expected to extend the waiver and then perhaps moot it by taking aim at the Open Internet order of which it is a part.

Republican commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly did nothing to dampen those expectations, saying that they planned to "seek to revisit" enhanced transparency, and the Title II Net Neutrality proceeding more broadly, as soon as possible.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler actually circulated an item extending the waiver but only to systems of 100,000 subs or fewer (the trigger for the one-year waiver extension that the FCC granted last year but expired Dec. 15), which the FCC called truly small operators.

Congress had proposed a 250,000 cutoff and so had the Republicans. According to multiple sources it was the distance between those numbers that could not be bridged and led to the waiver being sunset. On that same day, the Office of Management and Budget approved the new paperwork collection burdens of the enhanced transparency rules in the Open Internet order, after which the FCC set the Jan. 17 effective date.

That will be the first time the new reporting requirements have applied to any ISPs.

The commissioners could still come to an agreement on a figure before Jan. 17 but had not at press time.

Pai and O'Rielly, in the joint letter, said they had been trying for months to find consensus.

The joint letter went to carriers who had joined together to push the FCC to extend the waiver. In addition to Polka, the letters were addressed to Meredith Attwell Baker, CTIA; Steven Berry, Competitive Carriers Association; Alex Phillips, WISPA-Wireless Internet Service Providers Association; and Shirley Bloomfield, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association.

CCA's Berry was quick to praise the commissioners.

"The Commissioners’ letter provides smaller businesses some needed certainty in an otherwise uncertain situation,” he said in a statement. But it was short of the absolute certainty his and other groups were looking for.

"Unfortunately, despite this welcome and laudable commitment from Commissioners Pai and O’Rielly, small providers will still be vulnerable to enforcement actions between January 17th and when the new administration takes over," he said. "I hope the full FCC will take Commissioner Pai and O’Rielly’s lead and extend relief to small providers, consistent with bipartisan, bicameral legislative efforts. CCA members, especially our small provider members, should not be forced to scramble into compliance over the holidays with a set of rules they rightly assumed would not take effect until the issue had been fully resolved at the Commission through a rulemaking or through congressional action.”

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.