GOP: Spare small Internet providers from some neutrality regs

A group of Republican lawmakers is asking the Federal Communications Commission to permanently exempt small Internet providers from a portion of its net neutrality rules.

Under the rules approved in February, Internet service providers (ISPs) with 100,000 or fewer subscribers were temporarily exempted from complying with the stricter transparency requirements the commission placed on larger providers like Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

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Thirty-four Republican members of Congress sent a letter Friday to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler encouraging him to make the exemption permanent and change the criteria by which it is applied.

In the letter, they asked Wheeler to forsake the 100,000-or-fewer-subscribers standard in favor of applying the exemption to any provider with 1,500 employees or fewer or, alternately, to any with 500,000 or fewer subscribers. The former is the Small Business Administration’s definition of a small telecommunications provider while the latter is how the commission defines a small wireless carrier.

“Given the stakes for America’s small businesses, the FCC was right to exercise caution and grant the temporary exemption,” the lawmakers said. “Now is the time to recognize the disproportionate impact and the requirements would have on these ISPs and their customers and make the exception permanent. Additionally, the Commission should grant the exemption to all small businesses that meet the definition previously set by the SBA.”

Signatories to the letter include House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.).

Regulators at the commission have said they will decide whether to make the exemption permanent by Dec. 15, making the issue a pressing one.

They are also due to start considering how to apply certain privacy restrictions to Internet service providers that are required as part of the reclassification to broadband service that was central to the net neutrality rules.

Industry groups and telecom companies are suing over the legality of the rules, with a federal court set to hear arguments in the case later this month.