On September 8, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released an order to update and remove regulations that the FCC determined “no longer reflect current requirements or technology” from the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). This measure includes eliminating rules granting unconditional forbearance for all carriers and references to telegraph services from certain rules. The FCC stated that its goal in issuing this order is to reduce “regulatory burdens, eliminating unnecessary rule provisions, and making the agency as efficient and effective as possible.”

The order is particularly of note because this deregulation and streamlining of highly regulated common carrier rules comes at a time when the FCC is again considering reclassifying internet service providers as providers of “information services,” rather than common carriers, amid concerns that such a shift into less regulated territory may weaken net neutrality a mere three years after internet service providers were first deemed subject to the heavily regulated common carrier rules as telecommunications providers in February 2015.

The following is a summary of the technical aspects of the order:

Forbearance

In previous orders, the FCC did not alter the text of codified rules or remove certain rules from the CFR despite stating that the FCC will forbear from applying the rules. If someone were to look up certain rules and had no knowledge of the FCC’s policy of unconditional forbearance on such rules, they could easily believe that such rules were still in effect, until now.

The order deletes the following CFR provisions:

  • Sections 42.4, 42.5, and 42.7, which required carriers to preserve certain records
  • Section 64.1, which governed traffic damage claims for carriers engaged in radio telegraph, wire telegraph, or ocean-cable service
  • Section 64.301, which required carriers to provide communications services to foreign governments for international communications
  • Section 64.501, which governed telephone companies’ obligations when recording telephone conversations
  • Sections 64.804(c)-(g), which governed a carrier’s recordkeeping and other obligations when it extended unsecured credit for communications services to candidates for federal office
  • Sections 64.5001(a)-(c)(2) and (c)(4), which imposed certain reporting and certification requirements on prepaid calling card providers

References to Telegraph Services

In the order, the FCC recognizes that as technology has evolved, references to telegraph services are obsolete, and grants forbearance from the application of all exit regulations pursuant to Section 214(a) of the Communications Act, as amended, to telegraph service.

In addition to these changes, the order includes a statement by Commissioner Brendan Carr in which he acknowledges that the telecommunications section of the CFR includes many rules that are long outdated and “function only to discourage innovation, entrepreneurship, and competition.” He makes a point to note that the order deletes all or part of the eight rules that had remained intact despite the FCC’s deciding years ago that they were obsolete, and states the FCC’s commitment to ensuring that “our regulations are up to date and reflect the realities of this dynamic and fast-moving sector of the economy.” Accordingly, it is the commissioner’s intent to continue to find additional ways to reduce burdens and further modernize the rules.