House Passes Small Business Enhanced Transparency Exemption

The House Tuesday passed the Small Business Broadband Deployment Act, which would extend the small business waiver from the FCC Open Internet order's enhanced reporting requirements for five years and up the trigger for that waiver from 100,000 subs or fewer to 250,000 subs or fewer.

The FCC's current waiver expired last month and new reporting requirements would be triggered next week.

The bill was sponsored by the new chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.).

The reporting requirements may eventually be mooted if the FCC rolls back the Title II-based Open Internet rules, but in the interim operators have to start figuring out what they need to report and when they have to start reporting it. Apparently, everyone will have to start complying Jan. 17.

As part of the 2015 Open Internet Order, which went into effect June 12, 2015, the FCC expanded ISP obligations to inform customers about network management practices and their impact on customer's broadband service, part of FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's focus on informing subs when their promised broadband speeds or service could be altered by such practices. But the FCC gave carriers with 100,000 or fewer subs a temporary exemption from the requirement and asked if it should be made permanent.

“We greatly appreciate Chairman Walden’s leadership on this bill to relieve smaller broadband providers from compliance with the burdensome and costly enhanced transparency requirements,” said NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association CEO Shirley Bloomfield.“Advancing this legislation, which received overwhelming bipartisan support in the last Congress as well, will enable smaller ISPs to remain focused on providing high-quality broadband service to their customers rather than dealing with these onerous regulations.”

“This bill is a win-win for rural consumers and small business people,” said Alex Phillips, President of The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA). “It will protect rural Americans from added costs they can least afford, while allowing small ISPs to invest in better services, equipment, and jobs.”

"Because the FCC's temporary exemption for small ISPs unexpectedly expired last month, leaving small providers subject to compliance with the enhanced obligations on January 17, ACA appreciates the House's action to adopt legislation that would not only reinstate the exemption but expand it to more broadly cover small ISPs," said American Cable Association President Matt Polka. "ACA was disappointed when the FCC failed to extend the exemption even though there was bipartisan agreement that the extension was appropriate and in the public interest," he said.

FCC sources say the sticking point at the FCC was over the 100,000 vs. 250,000 trigger figures, with the chairman favoring retaining the former and Republicans wanting to expand it to the latter.

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.