House slated to approve transparency exemption for small Internet providers

The House as soon as Wednesday is slated to pass a bill to let more small Internet service providers avoid transparency requirements included in controversial net neutrality regulations. 

The legislation has quickly made it to a full vote in the House after Republicans and Democrats struck a deal last month, which focuses on one of the less controversial aspects of new Internet rules drafted by the Federal Communications Commission

The Obama administration signed off on the legislation Monday as long as Republicans avoid adding extra amendments that would undermine the broader regulations that prevent Internet service providers from discriminating against different kinds of Web traffic. 

“The administration does not oppose House passage of [the bill] in its current form,” according to a policy statement drafted by the Obama administration.  “However, the administration will not support any attempt to undermine the important consumer economic protections of the open Internet order.”

The House Rules Committee approved a rule Monday afternoon that limited outside amendments on the floor. 

The Federal Communications Commission already temporarily exempted a number of small Internet service providers from rules that require companies to clearly disclose things like the fully monthly price of Internet service, promotional rates, data caps and any customer degradation of service.

The House bill would extend the exemption for five years. It would also broaden the definition of a small Internet service provider so that more companies could avoid the rules.

The current definition of a small company is one that provides Internet service to fewer than 100,000 customers. Under the legislation that definition would broaden to fewer than 250,000. Before the compromise, Republicans initially wanted that number to hit 500,000 — a definition used by the Small Business Administration. It also wanted to permanently exempt the companies. 

The legislation requires the FCC to report to Congress on whether a permanent exemption would work and where the small business cutoff should be. The total number of companies that would fall under the exemption is still not fully known.

All Internet service providers are already required to follow more baseline transparency rules, which were included in years-old FCC rules. Last year, the FCC approved expanded rules that reclassified Internet service providers as common carriers, which gives the FCC more authority to regulate their conduct. The rules included the expanded transparency rules at issue in the House legislation.