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House Puts Bill to Relieve Small-Business ISPs on the Fast Track

Randy Sukow Jan 9, 2017

According to published reports, the House of Representatives could bring the “Small Business Broadband Deployment Act” (H.R. 288) to a vote this week under a suspension of the rules. That is the procedure the legislative body uses to call for unanimous consent of uncontroversial bills.

H.R. 288, introduced last week by House Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR), would give rural and other Internet providers with less than 250,000 subscribers a permanent exemption from the enhanced transparency rules in the FCC’s Open Internet order. The Commission allowed a temporary exemption to expire last month and enforcement of the rules is to begin Jan.17.

A similar bill passed the House in the last Congressional session, but failed to pass the Senate. If H.R. 288 suffers the same fate, rural ISPs likely will still escape enforcement. Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly, who will make up the majority of the FCC as of Jan. 20, have assured small ISPs that they “would not support any adverse actions against small business providers for supposed non-compliance with the ‘enhanced transparency’ rules after that date.” The FCC eventually could adopt a permanent exemption on its own.

Update, Jan. 11: The House passed H.R. 288 yesterday as expected under a suspension of the rules.

Update, Jan. 30: Chairman Ajit Pai circulated a draft order that would give small ISPs a five-year waiver from enhanced transparency. Pai said that the order “mirrors” H.R. 288. Both Pai and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly have indicated that they are voting for the draft order, which means that it should soon appear as an adopted order. “I remain hopeful that the full Commission will adopt this bipartisan compromise swiftly. Further delay will only force the companies to divert scarce resources away from investing in rural America and toward filling out needless paperwork,” he said.

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