Ahead of a House Communications and Technology Subcommittee hearing Jan. 11, Republican commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wrote a letter urging Congress to review a decision not to grant small Internet service providers (ISP) a permanent exemption from the “enhanced transparency requirements” of the FCC open Internet order.“By failing to make the exemption permanent, the FCC missed an opportunity to remedy these concerns and take this issue off the table. Instead, providers face prolonged uncertainty and the looming threat of future regulation,” Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Ajit Pai said.
The FCC has granted a temporary exemption until December 15, 2016. O’Rielly and Pai said an FCC proceeding made clear that small providers have fewer resources to devote to enhanced transparency requirements. In addition, the filing requirements could jeopardize the ability of small ISPs to deploy broadband or improve service in their communities, the letter said.
At the hearing, former FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell called on Congress to make the small ISP exemption to enhanced transparency requirements permanent. “The requirements—which were designed with the largest broadband providers in mind—impose disproportionate compliance burdens on smaller providers, depleting the resources needed for broadband Internet access service deployment and operation,” McDowell said. Elizabeth Bowles, speaking on behalf of the Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPA) association, said the temporary extension is an impediment to her company’s plans to expand its network in rural Arkansas. Bowles is president of Aristotle, a fixed wireless ISP based in Little Rock, Ark. “Before the order was adopted, it was our intention to triple our customer base by deployment of a redundant fixed wireless network that would cover a three-county area,” Bowles said. Instead, Aristotle has pulled back deployments and plans to its network to three, smaller, communities that abut the company’s existing network.
USTelecom supports a permanent waiver out of concern that small companies like Aristotle would be overwhelmed with the burdens and costs of the transparency requirements, which could divert money from network expansion or improvement. In comments filed with the FCC, USTelecom said the FCC underestimated the burdens and costs associated with the transparency requirements. “Broadband providers will need to engage a wide range of personnel – including engineers, network managers, regulatory advisers, in-house and outside counsel, technical writers, marketing, and other employees,” USTelecom said. According to a Broadcasting and Cable article, House Communications and Technology Subcommittee, Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore. plans on submitting a bill that would make permanent the FCC’s waiver for small ISPs with fewer than 1,500 employees and up to 500,000 subscribers.