Members of the Senate Commerce Committee adopted legislation by voice vote Wednesday that would exempt small Internet service providers (ISPs) with 250,000 or fewer subscribers from the enhanced transparency requirements of the 2015 Open Internet order. Under provisions of the Open Internet order, which was upheld Tuesday by the DC Circuit Court, the FCC exempted small broadband ISPs with fewer than 100,000 subscribers from enhanced transparency requirements, pending a determination by the agency’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (CGAB) as to whether that exemption should be maintained permanently and the recommended subscriber threshold for a permanent exemption. Although the FCC directed the CGAB to issue its determination by December 15, 2015, the FCC later extended the small ISP exemption for another year based on the CGAB’s acknowledgment that it was not yet able to “fully evaluate” the impact of subjecting small ISPs to the enhanced transparency rules.
Stressing that the goal of the bill is to reduce cost burdens on small ISPs, committee chairman John Thune (R-SD) said, “I hope we can . . . find a way to move it across the [Senate] floor.” Competitive Carriers Association CEO Steve Berry praised the committee for recognizing “the importance of letting these businesses spend human and financial resources doing what they do best—serving customers.” A spokesman for the new America Open Technology Institute countered, however, by characterizing the bill as “a solution in search of problem,” adding that “small ISPs are already exempt from these rules through the end of the year and the FCC can grant an extension if necessary.”