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Net Neutrality

Public Interest Groups Blast FCC For Refusal to Extend Public Safety Deadline on Net Neutrality Comments

David Jelke

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Photo of Andy Schwartzman from the Benton Institute

April 22, 2020 – Multiple voices weighed in on the Federal Communications Commission’s public notice seeking comment on its prior net neutrality decision, although public interest and some congressional representatives expressed anger at the agency’s refusal to allow additional time for comments.

On Monday, the FCC denied further extensions of time on the agency’s notice seeking to “refresh the record” on the net neutrality proceeding involving public safety, pole attachments, and the Lifeline program for low-income American’ access to telecommunications and broadband.

See Drew Clark's in-depth analysis of the D.C. Circuit Court's Decision in Mozilla v. FCC, which highlighted the court's requirement for an agency remand, "D.C. Circuit’s Decision in Net Neutrality Case Likely to Open New Fronts of Attack Against FCC," October 7, 2019.

But several industry and industry-focused groups were supportive of the agency’s general approach in eliminating net neutrality requirements.

Benton Institute for Broadband and Society Senior Counselor Andy Schwartzman called  “the denial of this extension request [] shameful.”

“[FCC] Chairman [Ajit] Pai and the FCC staff don’t think that the pandemic is enough of an emergency to provide more time for first responders to file comments about how the Commission can ensure that first responders can serve the public in emergencies like pandemics,” Schwartzman said.

Added Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., “When the Trump FCC repealed net neutrality two years ago, it completely ignored public safety. Santa Clara County firefighters paid a steep price when Verizon throttled their data speeds as they fought the worst fire in California’s history, and the County was helpless to resolve the issue. The County sued the FCC and the D.C. Circuit Court required the FCC to revisit its net neutrality repeal to account for public safety.

“Now, when these same first responders of the Santa Clara County Fire Department are requesting a very reasonable extension to file their comments in the FCC’s order because they are on the front lines in responding to the worst pandemic of our lifetimes, Chairman Pai has ignored their pleas,” said Eshoo.

A group of advocates including Public Knowledge, Access Humboldt, Access Now and the National Hispanic Media Coalition did file comments by the Monday deadline.

“In the comments, we explain how the FCC should reassert its authority over broadband providers so that it can properly fulfill its responsibilities. In particular, as millions of Americans are staying home due to the pandemic, it has become clear that reliable, affordable broadband access is important to allow people to work and attend classes from home -- and is even a matter of public safety,” said John Bergmayer, legal director of Public Knowledge.

Industry-supportive groups instead praised the FCC’s effort to address the appeals court’s remand.

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association said that the FCC’s “restoring internet freedom” order “put an end to stultifying utility-style regulation for WISPs,” said Louis Peraertz, vice president of policy for WISPA:

“It has fostered tremendous growth, investment and innovation, transforming the WISP marketplace,” said Peraertz. “Fiber and other exciting broadband technologies blossom, bringing more power, capacity and coverage to WISP networks and customers. Moreover, [the order] allows WISPs to more flexibly add and then serve their subscribers – a fact which is especially important not only in reducing the rural digital divide, but also in helping our nation successfully combat the COVID-19 pandemic.”

WISPA called for the FCC to grant WISP access to pole attachments at “just and reasonable rates just like providers of ‘telecommunications service’ and cable services,” said Peraertz.

TechFreedom General Counsel Jim Dunstan said that "the FCC need not, and should not, reconsider this fundamental aspect of its 2018 Order,” referring to the regulatory status of broadband services.

“The issues subject to remand are very narrow, and the FCC’s charge is only to better explain the impact of the return to Title I regulation on public safety, pole attachments, and the Lifeline program. That bar is very low and the FCC should have no problem” in explaining that reasonable access for pole attachments are technologically neutral, he said.

Technology Policy Institute President Scott Wallsten also defended the FCC’s deregulatory approach.

“The economics and history of common carriage regulation under the previous, Title II regime tends to be incompatible with rapid innovation and unsustainable over time.” He also argued that “network neutrality is inconsistent with high-performing public safety communications.”

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