Republicans waiting to take majority control of the Federal Communications Commission next year told internet providers Monday they plan to “revisit” the agency’s divisive net neutrality rules “as soon as possible.”
The letter from FCC Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly comes days after the agency let a temporary exemption from the rules for small providers expire. The exemption freed providers with 100,000 or fewer subscribers from transparency requirements about monthly data charges, promotional rates, data caps and network performance mandated under the 2015 Open Internet Order.
Republicans wanted to expand the threshold to 250,000, but said Friday they were unable to come to an agreement with the FCC’s three-Democrat majority. The exemption, last renewed in December 2015, expired Thursday after groups of small providers pleaded with the agency for an extension.
Providers warned the costs associated with compliance could put many smaller operations out of business. Pai and O’Rielly sought to assuage their concerns Monday, saying they have no plans to take action against providers for non-compliance.
“We want to assure you and your members that we would not support any adverse actions against small business providers for supposed non-compliance with the “enhanced transparency” rules after that date,” the Republicans wrote, “and we will seek to revisit those particular requirements, and the Title II Net Neutrality proceeding more broadly, as soon as possible.”
They’ll be in good position to follow through in January, when Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel’s term expires and when Chairman Tom Wheeler departs with the Obama administration on January 20. That’ll give O’Rielly and Pai a 2-1 majority over remaining Democrat Mignon Clyburn.
Pai, who’s expected to take over as chairman, said in December he expects the new majority “will shift from playing defense at the FCC to going on offense” and “fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation.”
“On the day that the Title II Order was adopted, I said that ‘I don’t know whether this plan will be vacated by a court, reversed by Congress, or overturned by a future Commission. But I do believe that its days are numbered,'” he said earlier this month. “Today, I am more confident than ever that this prediction will come true.”
Republicans in Congress are already talking about a legislative overwrite to undo the reclassification of internet service providers as common carriers, which subjects them to stricter regulation. But an FCC transition team member for President-elect Donald Trump recently said the FCC can begin rolling back net neutrality itself.
“There’s an appeals court decision that’s expected any day now that likely will hold up the FCC’s order, likely that goes to the Supremes and then there are a number of things the commission could do and people are looking at all those,” transition team member Jeff Eisenach told CNBC in December.
The transparency requirements could be first on a lengthy list of rollbacks to Wheeler’s agenda, including tougher new privacy rules for internet providers passed in accordance with net neutrality.