House panel approves bill to extend net neutrality exemption

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A House panel on Thursday approved a bill that would temporarily keep small businesses exempt from some net neutrality rules.

The bill, approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, extends for five years the exemption for small Internet service providers (ISPs) from harsher transparency requirements that are part of the rules.

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“By extending the existing exemption, however, we are giving certainty to small businesses seeking to make budgetary and operational decisions in a long-term fashion,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who chairs the subcommittee on communications and technology.

Bipartisan support for the bill came after last-minute dealmaking between Democrats and Republicans on the committee.

Dems had objected to an initial version of the legislation that applied the exemption to any ISP with 500,000 or fewer subscribers, because they said it would include companies that were too large to be considered a small business. That version also would have made the exemption permanent.

But the version approved Thursday applies to Internet providers with no more than 250,000 subscribers and no longer extends the exemptions indefinitely.

A top Democrat praised the changes.

“It reflects this data by protecting the nation’s smallest ISPs but it also continues to ensure that the majority of consumers receive the full set of benefits promised by the enhanced transparency rules, including clear disclosure of promotional rates, fees, surcharges and data caps,” said technology subcommittee ranking member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.).

It’s a rare moment of bipartisanship around anything related to last February’s net neutrality rules, which have cast a long shadow over debates at the commission and on Capitol Hill.

Leaders on the Senate Commerce Committee have said they are working on a compromise bill on the issue — but so far, nothing has come to fruition.