Small ISP Enhanced Transparency Waiver Passes House

Legislation Now Heads to Senate

The House has unanimously passed the Small Business Broadband Deployment Act, which extends the FCC's exemption of smaller ISPs from the enhanced transparency rules under its new Open Internet 0rder.

"The bill protects small businesses from burdensome regulations, and allows small Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to focus on expanding networks, deploying broadband, improving connectivity for rural consumers, and creating jobs," said Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) after the vote.

After reaching a compromise on language, the House Energy & Commerce Committee voted unanimously to approve an amended version of the bill last month.

The definition of small business is 250,000 subs (the FCC exemption applied to systems with 100,000 and fewer) and the exemption sunsets after five years. The FCC is also directed to report to the Committee, and the Senate Commerce Committee, which also has principal jurisdiction over the FCC, within six months of enactment its recommendations for whether the exemption should be permanent and whether that 250,000 figure should be adjusted.

Republicans had wanted a permanent waiver and Democrats a term-limited one. Democrats won that one, though with the report caveat.

The FCC recently extended the exemption for a year and put off a decision about making it permanent while it collected more info on the impact of the enhanced transparency requirements on small businesses, but Congress doesn't want to wait that long.

The bill must now pass the Senate and get the President's signature.

"ACA thanks House Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Ia.) for designing a bill that will provide targeted relief to a category of ISPs that clearly needed it," said American Cable Association President Matt Polka. "It is important to note that these ISPs will continue to comply with transparency rules that were in effect prior to adoption of the FCC's enhanced transparency rules in February 2015."

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) also applauded passage. “This bill is a win-win for small business people and rural consumers,” said WISPA Presidnt Alex Phillips. “While protecting rural Americans from added costs they can least afford, this bill will allow small ISPs, like WISPs, to invest in better broadband services, wider coverage, and faster data speeds.”  He also singled out Walden and Loebsack for special praise.

WISPA said it was hopeful a similar--but "broader"--effort in the Senate by Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), would bear fruit and a final bill could be passed and to the President this year.

“Many competitive carriers are small businesses serving less than 250,000 subscribers, are locally-based and care deeply about serving their communities," said Competitive Carriers Association President Steven Berry. "These companies have loyal customers based on their excellent track records of transparency, and I am very pleased the bill will allow these carriers to focus their financial and human resources on their customers rather than potentially onerous regulatory obligations.  I thank the entire House for passing the Small Business Broadband Deployment Act, which will benefit consumers, the economy and the entire mobile ecosystem as a whole, and look forward to working with the Senate to send this commonsense legislation to the President.” 

“We are pleased by today’s overwhelming, bipartisan vote in support of H.R. 4596. While we remain confident that the Court of Appeals will invalidate the Open Internet Order, we commend Chairman Walden and Representative Loebsack for drafting this bill that provides small and regional wireless providers with certainty against time-consuming and costly compliance obligations. Today’s vote is a step in that direction and we hope the Senate will swiftly follow suit,” said CTIA, which also represents wireless carriers.

“The Small Business Deployment Act helps this great sector of our economy continue to expand, provide access to the world, and provide access to grow commerce and jobs in a rural setting,” said Walden. “This is really important to a lot of startup and growing businesses across our country. We need to give consumers more competition and better service, and this bipartisan solution does just that.”

"This commonsense, bipartisan measure will give small internet service providers throughout the country flexibility to focus their resources on deploying broadband and serving our constituents," Loebsack said after passage. "This bill will provide certainty to small ISPs, and help us achieve our ultimate goal of both expanding broadband access and enhancing consumer protections.”